Create an inventory of all estate assets, bills, and debt

Settle the Estate

State law requires that estates create a comprehensive inventory of all assets and debts so the value of the estate can be determined.

This inventory must be submitted and approved by the probate court in the county and state where the deceased lived before final debts can be paid and remaining assets can be distributed to heirs and beneficiaries.

To prepare for this process, it is best to keep track of all assets, bills, and debts that belonged to the deceased in a spreadsheet and keep copies of relevant documentation in a file.

Lightbulb_Icon.svgGood to Know Not only will this help when completing the estate’s official inventory, but the executor or administrator will also need this information to pay the deceased’s bills and distribute assets while settling the estate.

State law defines which assets and debts must be included on an official estate inventory.

For instance, not all states require funeral expenses to be included in an inventory.

It is important to review state law to determine which assets, bills, and debts must be included on the estate’s inventory.

Exclamation_Icon.svgImportant Some assets bypass probate, because they are considered “non-probate assets.”

This means they do not need to be included on an estate’s official inventory, nor do they count toward the total value of the estate.

Helpful Tips


  • Real estate
  • Personal property (vehicles, jewelry, art, furniture)
  • Collectibles
  • Household items
  • Financial accounts
  • Investment accounts
  • Retirement accounts
  • Insurance policies
  • Wages of the deceased
  • Safe deposit boxes
  • Cash

  • Utility bills. Record payment amounts and due dates; utility provider name and address
  • Mortgage. Record payment amount and due date; balance due; lender name and address
  • Insurance. Record payment amounts and due dates; insurer name and address and type of insurance
  • Medical bills. Record payment amounts and due dates; provider name and address
  • Loans. Record payment amount and due date; balance due; lender name and address and type of loan (e.g. car loan, personal loan)
  • Credit card debt. Record payments amounts and due dates; total balance due; credit company name and address
  • Funeral expenses. Record payment amounts and due dates; service provider name and address

  • Financial accounts that were titled “Payable on Death” (POD) or “Transfer on Death” (TOD). If the pod or tod asset has a living beneficiary, the asset bypasses the legal probate process and does not need to be included on an estate inventory.
  • Assets with a living joint account holder. If the deceased had an asset, bill, debt, or account with a joint account holder who is still living, the joint account holder is now solely responsible for the bill or asset. The asset bypasses the legal probate process and does not need to be included on an estate inventory.
  • Life insurance or retirement accounts with a living, named beneficiary. If the deceased had life insurance or retirement accounts with a named beneficiary who is still living, the beneficiary is now the owner of that asset. The asset bypasses the legal probate process and does not need to be included on an estate inventory.
  • Assets held in a Trust. Trusts are legal documents that appoint a trustee to hold assets on behalf of beneficiaries. Assets held in trust bypass the legal probate process and do not need to be included on an estate inventory.

While these assets do not have to be listed on the official estate inventory, it may be wise to keep personal records of these assets.

Keeping an accurate record of all assets, even those that bypass probate, will help the executor ensure they give all assets to the right beneficiaries.

To help determine which assets are “Probate” assets and which assets are “non-Probate” assets, review the section, “Categorize Assets.”


Gather or locate loan documents, bank statements, and credit card statements to determine the debts and bills the deceased was paying prior to their death.

Loan documents will provide information regarding where to send loan payments, and identify any co-signers who may be responsible for making payments now that the deceased has passed.

Bank and credit card statements will show which payments the deceased was making. This may help to identify ongoing expenses, as well as their payment amount.

If assets, bills, and debts are hard to find, it may help to look in the following places:

  • The deceased’s mail and e-mail
  • File cabinets
  • Checkbooks
  • The deceased’s desk or workspace
  • Safe deposit box
  • The deceased’s credit reports
  • Professional advisors (financial planners, accountant, lawyers, business partners)

For more information on paying or eliminating the deceased’s bills and debt, review the section “Eliminate Expenses.”

Guides_Icon.svgRead More For more information on paying or eliminating the deceased’s bills and debt, see the “Pay or cancel ongoing expenses” section of the Guide.


Most states only allow creditors a limited window of time in which to request money from an estate (typically 6 months from the date the letters testamentary were issued).

Creditors are any individual or organization the deceased owed money.

Letters testamentary, or letters of administration, are a document provided to the executor or administrator by the probate court in the state where the deceased lived.

They give the executor or administrator the authority to act on behalf of the estate, which includes the authority to pay bills and debts of the estate.

To learn more about paying the bills and debt of the deceased, review “Pay the estate's bills, debts, and taxes" Chapter of the Guide.


The Executor or Administrator is responsible for paying bills and debts of the deceased, among other responsibilities. Before paying any bills or debts, however, the Executor should validate the existence of said bills and debts.

In other words, anyone the deceased owed money should be contacted to determine if money was owed, how much was owed, and when payment is due.

The person or organization who was owed money should be able to provide documentation of the amounts due in order to validate the debt. Do not pay debts that cannot be validated.

Personal Considerations


Did the deceased have debts?


Record all debts and bills (no matter how large or small) on a spreadsheet for record-keeping purposes.

This information may also need to be shared with the probate court in the county and state where the deceased lived on an official inventory form.

Review state law or contact the probate office in the county and state where the deceased lived to determine what information will need to be included in the estate inventory form.

Common estate debts and information to record:

  • Utility bills. Record payment amounts and due dates; utility provider name and address
  • Mortgage. Record payment amount and due date; balance due; lender name and address
  • Insurance. Record payment amounts and due dates; insurer name and address and type of insurance
  • Medical bills. Record payment amounts and due dates; provider name and address
  • Loans. Record payment amount and due date; balance due; lender name and address and type of loan (e.g. car loan, personal loan)
  • Credit card debt. Record payments amounts and due dates; total balance due; credit company name and address
  • Funeral expenses. Record payment amounts and due dates; service provider name and address

Exclamation_Icon.svgImportant Most states have a timeframe in which the estate inventory must be submitted (e.g. two months from the issuance of letters testamentary).

Review state law to determine if and when the estate’s inventory must be filed with the probate court.

Guides_Icon.svgRead More For more information on identifying which bills and debt the deceased had, see the “Pay or cancel ongoing expenses” section of the Guide.


Review the deceased’s mail, email, file cabinets, and desk thoroughly to identify any potential debts or bills. It is rare for an individual to not have any bills or debts.

If a thorough search does not reveal any debts, the executor or administrator will still need to publish a Notice to Creditors in a local publication where the deceased lived.

A Notice to Creditors is a required notice that must be made according to the laws of the state where the deceased lived.

Typically, creditors have a limited window of time (e.g. 6 months) in which they can submit a claim to the executor alleging that the deceased owed them money.

If no creditors come forward during the state-defined timeframe for making a claim, the estate may not have to pay those debts, unless the creditor files a lawsuit against the estate and the court orders the estate to pay the debt in question.

Exclamation_Icon.svgImportant This rule may not apply to tax debts.

The estate will still likely owe any state or federal taxes even if the government does not submit a claim to the estate in the timeframe outlined by state law.

To learn more about providing the Notice to Creditors, see the “Notify Creditors” Task in the Guide.


If the deceased had debts:

Record all debts and bills (no matter how large or small) on a spreadsheet for record-keeping purposes.

This information may also need to be shared with the probate court in the county and state where the deceased lived on an official inventory form.

Review state law or contact the probate office in the county and state where the deceased lived to determine what information will need to be included in the estate inventory form.

Common estate debts and information to record:

  • Utility bills. Record payment amounts and due dates; utility provider name and address
  • Mortgage. Record payment amount and due date; balance due; lender name and address
  • Insurance. Record payment amounts and due dates; insurer name and address and type of insurance
  • Medical bills. Record payment amounts and due dates; provider name and address
  • Loans. Record payment amount and due date; balance due; lender name and address and type of loan (e.g. car loan, personal loan)
  • Credit card debt. Record payments amounts and due dates; total balance due; credit company name and address
  • Funeral expenses. Record payment amounts and due dates; service provider name and address

Exclamation_Icon.svgImportant Most states have a timeframe in which the estate inventory must be submitted (e.g. two months from the issuance of letters testamentary).

Review state law to determine if and when the estate’s inventory must be filed with the probate court.

Guides_Icon.svgRead More For more information on identifying which bills and debt the deceased had, see the “Pay or cancel ongoing expenses” section of the Guide.

If the deceased did not have debts:

Review the deceased’s mail, email, file cabinets, and desk thoroughly to identify any potential debts or bills. It is rare for an individual to not have any bills or debts.

If a thorough search does not reveal any debts, the executor or administrator will still need to publish a Notice to Creditors in a local publication where the deceased lived.

A Notice to Creditors is a required notice that must be made according to the laws of the state where the deceased lived.

Typically, creditors have a limited window of time (e.g. 6 months) in which they can submit a claim to the executor alleging that the deceased owed them money.

If no creditors come forward during the state-defined timeframe for making a claim, the estate may not have to pay those debts, unless the creditor files a lawsuit against the estate and the court orders the estate to pay the debt in question.

Exclamation_Icon.svgImportant This rule may not apply to tax debts.

The estate will still likely owe any state or federal taxes even if the government does not submit a claim to the estate in the timeframe outlined by state law.

To learn more about providing the Notice to Creditors, see the “Notify Creditors” Task in the Guide.


Does the estate qualify as a "small estate"?


The executor or administrator may not have to submit an official inventory form to the probate court in the county and state where the deceased lived.

However, this will be determined by the laws of the state where the deceased lived.

This is because “small” estates often qualify for a simplified probate process known as summary probate.

Guides_Icon.svgRead More To learn more about “small” estates, see the “Determine if the estate can avoid probate" section of the Guide.

While a formal inventory may not be required for a “small” estate, it is still helpful to create an inventory of assets and debts for the executor to refer to when paying the deceased’s bills and debts and distributing assets to heirs.

An inventory will also help the executor determine if the estate qualifies as a “small” estate based on its total value (which can be calculated using the informal inventory).


A formal inventory form is typically required during the legal probate process for “regular” estates.

“Regular” estates are simply estates that do not qualify for summary probate, often because the estate is valued over a specific financial limit.

Guides_Icon.svgRead More To learn more about summary probate and to determine whether the deceased’s estate qualifies as a “small” estate, see the “Determine if the estate can avoid probate" section of the Guide.

Most states have a timeframe in which the estate inventory must be submitted (e.g. two months from the issuance of letters testamentary).

Review state law to determine if and when the estate’s inventory must be filed with the probate court.


If the estate is a small estate:

The executor or administrator may not have to submit an official inventory form to the probate court in the county and state where the deceased lived.

However, this will be determined by the laws of the state where the deceased lived.

This is because “small” estates often qualify for a simplified probate process known as summary probate.

Guides_Icon.svgRead More To learn more about “small” estates, see the “Determine if the estate can avoid probate" section of the Guide.

While a formal inventory may not be required for a “small” estate, it is still helpful to create an inventory of assets and debts for the executor to refer to when paying the deceased’s bills and debts and distributing assets to heirs.

An inventory will also help the executor determine if the estate qualifies as a “small” estate based on its total value (which can be calculated using the informal inventory).

If the estate is not a small estate:

A formal inventory form is typically required during the legal probate process for “regular” estates.

“Regular” estates are simply estates that do not qualify for summary probate, often because the estate is valued over a specific financial limit.

Guides_Icon.svgRead More To learn more about summary probate and to determine whether the deceased’s estate qualifies as a “small” estate, see the “Determine if the estate can avoid probate" section of the Guide.

Most states have a timeframe in which the estate inventory must be submitted (e.g. two months from the issuance of letters testamentary).

Review state law to determine if and when the estate’s inventory must be filed with the probate court.


Did the deceased have any assets that are Payable on Death (POD) or Transfer on Death (TOD)?


The value of those assets should not be included in the Estate’s total value and the assets will not need to be included in the official Estate inventory, if one is required by state law.

Assets that bypass probate include:

  • Financial accounts that were titled “Payable on Death” (POD) or “Transfer on Death” (TOD). If the POD or TOD asset has a living beneficiary, the asset bypasses the legal Probate process and does not need to be included on an Estate inventory.
  • Assets with a living joint account holder. If the deceased had an asset, bill, debt, or account with a joint account holder who is still living, the joint account holder is now solely responsible for the bill or asset. The asset bypasses the legal Probate process and does not need to be included on an Estate inventory.
  • Life insurance or retirement accounts with a living, named beneficiary. If the deceased had life insurance or retirement accounts with a named beneficiary who is still living, the beneficiary is now the owner of that asset. The asset bypasses the legal Probate process and does not need to be included on an Estate inventory.
  • Assets held in a Trust. Trusts are legal documents that appoint a Trustee to hold assets on behalf of beneficiaries. Assets held in Trust bypass the legal Probate process and do not need to be included on an Estate inventory.

Lightbulb_Icon.svgGood to Know While these assets do not have to be listed on the official Estate inventory, it may be wise to keep personal records of these assets. Keeping an accurate record of all assets, even those that bypass Probate, will help the Executor ensure they give all assets to the right Beneficiaries.

To help determine which assets are “Probate” assets and which assets are “non-Probate” assets, review the section, “Categorize Assets.”

Review the other questions in this section to see if the Estate must file an official Inventory.


All assets, regardless of the value of the asset, should be recorded on the official estate inventory, if one is required by the probate court in the county and state where the deceased lived.

Check state law or contact the probate office in the county and state where the deceased lived to determine what information will need to be included in the estate inventory form.

Review the other questions in this section to see if the estate must file an official inventory.


If the deceased had assets with named beneficiaries and/or specified transfers on death:

The value of those assets should not be included in the Estate’s total value and the assets will not need to be included in the official Estate inventory, if one is required by state law.

Assets that bypass probate include:

  • Financial accounts that were titled “Payable on Death” (POD) or “Transfer on Death” (TOD). If the POD or TOD asset has a living beneficiary, the asset bypasses the legal Probate process and does not need to be included on an Estate inventory.
  • Assets with a living joint account holder. If the deceased had an asset, bill, debt, or account with a joint account holder who is still living, the joint account holder is now solely responsible for the bill or asset. The asset bypasses the legal Probate process and does not need to be included on an Estate inventory.
  • Life insurance or retirement accounts with a living, named beneficiary. If the deceased had life insurance or retirement accounts with a named beneficiary who is still living, the beneficiary is now the owner of that asset. The asset bypasses the legal Probate process and does not need to be included on an Estate inventory.
  • Assets held in a Trust. Trusts are legal documents that appoint a Trustee to hold assets on behalf of beneficiaries. Assets held in Trust bypass the legal Probate process and do not need to be included on an Estate inventory.

Lightbulb_Icon.svgGood to Know While these assets do not have to be listed on the official Estate inventory, it may be wise to keep personal records of these assets. Keeping an accurate record of all assets, even those that bypass Probate, will help the Executor ensure they give all assets to the right Beneficiaries.

To help determine which assets are “Probate” assets and which assets are “non-Probate” assets, review the section, “Categorize Assets.”

Review the other questions in this section to see if the Estate must file an official Inventory.

If the deceased did not have assets with named beneficiaries and/or specified transfers on death:

All assets, regardless of the value of the asset, should be recorded on the official estate inventory, if one is required by the probate court in the county and state where the deceased lived.

Check state law or contact the probate office in the county and state where the deceased lived to determine what information will need to be included in the estate inventory form.

Review the other questions in this section to see if the estate must file an official inventory.


Are there assets without beneficiaries?


All assets without beneficiaries should be recorded on the official estate inventory, if one is required by the probate court in the county and state where the deceased lived.

Review state law or contact the probate office in the county and state where the deceased lived to determine what information will need to be included in the estate inventory form.

Common assets without beneficiaries:

  • Financial accounts owned solely by the deceased
  • Personal property
  • Household items
  • Wages or income of the deceased
  • Cash

Some assets, even those with beneficiaries, will still count toward the total value of the estate and must be included on the official estate inventory.

For instance, even if personal property (e.g. furniture) has a beneficiary named in the deceased’s will, it must still be included on the estate inventory.

Review state law or contact the probate office in the county and state where the deceased lived to determine what information will need to be included in the estate inventory form.

Even if an official estate inventory is not required by probate court, it may be wise to keep records of all assets, bills, and debts for the executor’s personal reference.

This will help the executor ensure they are paying all bills and debts of the estate and giving away all estate assets to the right beneficiaries.


If there are assets without beneficiaries:

All assets without beneficiaries should be recorded on the official estate inventory, if one is required by the probate court in the county and state where the deceased lived.

Review state law or contact the probate office in the county and state where the deceased lived to determine what information will need to be included in the estate inventory form.

Common assets without beneficiaries:

  • Financial accounts owned solely by the deceased
  • Personal property
  • Household items
  • Wages or income of the deceased
  • Cash
If all assets have beneficiaries:

Some assets, even those with beneficiaries, will still count toward the total value of the estate and must be included on the official estate inventory.

For instance, even if personal property (e.g. furniture) has a beneficiary named in the deceased’s will, it must still be included on the estate inventory.

Review state law or contact the probate office in the county and state where the deceased lived to determine what information will need to be included in the estate inventory form.

Even if an official estate inventory is not required by probate court, it may be wise to keep records of all assets, bills, and debts for the executor’s personal reference.

This will help the executor ensure they are paying all bills and debts of the estate and giving away all estate assets to the right beneficiaries.

Providers to Contact


Probate Attorneys Near You

Probate attorneys help settle a deceased person’s estate. They can help locate, categorize, gather, and record assets during the probate process.

No results in your area.

Certified Public Accountants Near You

An accountant is a professional who specializes in financial record keeping and reporting. They can help you create an inventory of assets and debts and keep track of estate finances.

No results in your area.


Settle the Estate