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Probate & Property

Sept/Oct 2023

Maximizing Efficiency in Estate Administration: The Role of Paralegals

Imaan Moughal Saleem and Robert M. Nemzin


  • Paralegals play a crucial part in backing up attorneys and firms as they navigate the twists and turns of the estate administration process.
  • One of the most essential roles of a paralegal in estate administration is gathering all the necessary documents related to the estate.
  • Attorneys rely heavily on their paralegals to help them manage the many moving parts of an estate administration case, from gathering documents to communicating with clients.
Maximizing Efficiency in Estate Administration: The Role of Paralegals
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As trusts and estates professionals, we are acutely aware of the complexities and challenges that can arise during estate administration. The process requires a deep understanding of the relevant laws and regulations, meticulous attention to detail, and the ability to navigate sensitive family dynamics. Given the many tasks and responsibilities involved, trusts and estates attorneys and their teams must work efficiently and effectively to ensure the administration process runs smoothly. In this article, we focus on paralegals’ critical roles in supporting attorneys and firms during the estate administration process. By examining how paralegals can help organize and streamline the administration process, we hope to provide insights and practical guidance for our trusts and estates colleagues.

Pre-Mortem Planning

Paralegals can provide valuable support to attorneys in pre-mortem estate administration. They can play a critical role by reviewing and updating estate planning documents, such as wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and advance health care directives. This involves checking the documents for accuracy and ensuring they reflect the client’s current wishes and circumstances. Paralegals can help the attorney gather and organize important documents and assets, including bank and account statements, insurance policies, and other financial information, such as copies of tax returns, wealth statements, and balance sheets. A skilled paralegal can allow this complex process to be completed efficiently and accurately.

Additionally, paralegals can be crucial in tax planning, identifying potential tax issues, and working with the attorney to develop strategies to minimize the estate’s tax liability. Finally, paralegals can help the attorney understand and manage the family dynamics involved in estate administration, anticipate potential conflicts, and mitigate them before they arise. Paralegals’ support in these and other areas can help attorneys streamline the pre-mortem estate administration process to ensure that the client’s wishes are carried out promptly and accurately.

Gathering Relevant Information

Review Existing Plans (if any). One of the most critical tasks in estate administration is reviewing and updating estate planning documents. Paralegals can help ensure that estate plans reflect the client’s current wishes, that fiduciaries and beneficiaries are correctly identified, and that dispositive provisions are accurate. They can also assist with any necessary estate plan changes, such as changing fiduciaries or updating bequests, and aid in properly executing any new documents.

Locate Documents and Assets. Another crucial task in estate administration is gathering and organizing important documents. Paralegals can help locate wills, trusts, powers of attorney, deeds, stock certificates, tax returns, and other vital documents necessary for administering the estate. They can also help identify and review the titling of all the client’s assets, such as real estate, bank accounts, investments, retirement accounts, and life insurance policies. As part of this process paralegals can help determine whether any changes need to be made to the title of existing assets and whether there are any unintended consequences that may result from the current title. This helps to prepare for or potentially avoid the probate process.

Plan for Access to Digital Assets. Paralegals can help attorneys organize their clients’ digital assets by identifying email accounts, online accounts, social media accounts, and hardware such as computers and phones. They can help develop passwords and login information and determine whether existing planning documents permit fiduciaries to access digital assets. By understanding the full extent of a client’s digital footprint, paralegals can enable attorneys to effectively manage digital assets in estate administration. This information is all the more necessary in our digital world, when clients often receive only electronic access to account information rather than mailed physical paper statements.

Figure out Family Dynamics. Family dynamics are often complicated, and paralegals can assist attorneys in managing these situations. Based on the relationships among family members and beneficiaries, paralegals can help identify any problems in advance and allow attorneys to plan accordingly. Post-mortem, they can draft letters to notify beneficiaries and heirs of the decedent’s death, answer any questions, and provide a copy of the will.

Tax Planning

Tax considerations are essential to estate administration, and paralegals can assist attorneys in this area.

Charitable planning. Recognizing any opportunities from a charitable deduction perspective, both income tax and estate tax, is essential in pre-mortem planning with a client. Paralegals can help identify any planning opportunities through conversations with the client about any charitable inclinations they want to include in their overall estate plan. These discussions could lead to tremendous income or estate tax savings for the client, related both to the size of their overall estate and to any income tax attributes in that year.

End of Life Gifting. Last-minute gifting before a client’s death can transfer a large amount of wealth from the client’s estate, provided it is done on a non-taxable basis. Paralegals can aid this process by determining any annual exclusion gifts already made in the calendar year and then identifying any additional annual exclusion gifts that can be made before death. Making gifts directly to educational institutions for a beneficiary’s tuition or to medical providers for medical expenses should also be considered to use the unlimited exclusion for these purposes permitted under the Internal Revenue Code.

Grantor Trust and Income Tax Basis Planning. Grantor trust and income tax basis planning can achieve tremendous income tax benefits before death if swapping assets is feasible. Paralegals can help where irrevocable grantor trusts exist and include the power to swap assets in and out of the trust and aid in the documentation needed to evidence these transactions. Identifying these opportunities can provide tremendous value to the clients and their estates by maximizing the income tax basis step-up for the clients’ assets following their deaths.

Post-Mortem Administration

Paralegals can make valuable contributions to the estate administration process. Below is an overview of 10 ways that paralegals can help administer a decedent’s estate. Each step is essential to ensure that the estate is distributed fairly, efficiently, and in accordance with the law and the decedent’s directions. By following these steps and working closely with the attorney and other parties involved, paralegals can play a critical role in the estate administration.

1. Gather Documents Necessary for Estate Administration

One of the most essential roles of a paralegal in estate administration is gathering all the necessary documents related to the estate. These documents include the will, death certificate, insurance policies, financial records, and any other relevant documents. Each document must be reviewed to ensure it is complete and accurate. The paralegal should keep a detailed inventory of all collected documents and ensure they are organized and easily accessible. This allows the paralegal to assist the attorney in carrying out the decedent’s wishes efficiently and effectively.

2. Notify Beneficiaries and Heirs

Once all documents have been gathered, a paralegal can assist in notifying all beneficiaries and heirs of the decedent’s death and providing them with a copy of the will or any other required documentation. It is vital to ensure all beneficiaries and heirs are properly identified and have their correct contact information. The paralegal can also answer questions from beneficiaries and heirs about the estate and their rights under the will. By providing clear and concise information, the paralegal can help prevent confusion and disputes among interested parties.

3. Contact Creditors and Debtors

Another important task for the paralegal in estate administration is contacting all creditors and debtors to determine outstanding debts and obligations, verifying the validity of each claim, and negotiating with creditors when necessary. The paralegal should keep detailed records of all communication with creditors and debtors and update the estate inventory accordingly. By effectively managing the estate’s debts and obligations, the paralegal can help ensure that the estate is administered correctly and that all interested parties are treated fairly.

4. Prepare Filings

Preparing and filing necessary legal documents is another critical task for the paralegal in estate administration. This includes court petitions, letters, and motions. The paralegal should work closely with the attorney to ensure that all legal requirements are met, all documents comply with applicable guidelines and are filed with the appropriate court or sent to the appropriate recipients, and all deadlines are met. By staying on top of the filing process, the paralegal can help ensure that the estate is administered promptly and efficiently.

5. Inventory

Paralegals play a crucial role in the inventory process of estate administration. They may be responsible for creating and maintaining an accurate and up-to-date inventory of an estate’s assets and debts. This involves conducting a thorough review of all documents and records collected and keeping track of any changes that occur throughout the administration process. A detailed inventory ensures all assets are accounted for and properly distributed to the appropriate beneficiaries or heirs. Paralegals should review the inventory regularly to ensure that all changes are correctly recorded and that the inventory is always accurate and up-to-date.

6. File Tax Documents

Tax compliance is a critical aspect of estate administration, and paralegals play an essential role in ensuring that all necessary tax documents are prepared and filed correctly. They may prepare and file all the required tax returns related to the estate, including income and estate tax returns. This involves working closely with the accountant and the attorney to ensure that all tax requirements are met, tax returns are properly formatted and filed with the appropriate government agency, and all deadlines are met. They should keep accurate records of all tax-related documents, communicate with the relevant parties, and potentially assist in preparing documents related to a qualified disclaimer.

7. Communicate

Clear and effective communication is essential in estate administration, and paralegals play an important role. They must communicate effectively with all parties involved in estate administration, including the court, attorneys, and interested parties and ensure that all communication is clear and professional and that all parties are informed of any developments or changes in the administration process. Paralegals need to keep detailed records of all communication and update interested parties, as necessary.

8. Transfer of Assets

Paralegals play a crucial role in transferring assets to the appropriate beneficiaries or heirs—drafting. transfer documents, ensuring all necessary parties are involved in the transfer process, and confirming that all transfers are completed accurately and efficiently. Paralegals work closely with the attorney and interested parties to confirm all transfer agreements are properly executed.

9. Records

Paralegals maintain accurate records of all transactions and communication related to the estate. They track all financial transactions, phone calls, and emails. They review records regularly to ensure they are accurate and up-to-date. Accurate records are essential to ensure that all transactions are properly recorded and that there is a clear record of all communication related to the estate.

10. Distribution of Assets

Finally, paralegals play a critical role in the distribution of assets and closure of the estate. They help the attorney distribute assets and draft distribution agreements and documents, such as receipts and releases. Paralegals work closely with the attorney and interested parties to ensure that all distribution agreements are properly executed. They also complete all final tax returns and other legal requirements needed to close the estate. Paralegals play a crucial role in ensuring that the estate administration process is completed efficiently and effectively, allowing beneficiaries and heirs to receive their inheritance as soon as possible.


Estate administration can be a complex and time-consuming process and requires a strong collaboration between attorneys and paralegals to ensure that everything is organized and executed smoothly, both at the end stages of the clients’ lives and following their deaths. Attorneys rely heavily on their paralegals to help them manage the many moving parts of an estate administration case, from gathering documents to communicating with clients and stakeholders. A well-functioning attorney-paralegal team maximizes efficiency and delivers optimal client results. By leveraging each other’s strengths and expertise, attorneys and paralegals can form a dynamic team capable of confidently and easily managing even the most complex estate administration cases.