The Pros and Cons of Executor Checklists

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Funeral homes vary in the support they provide with estate settlement. Some offer robust services - like dedicated aftercare staff - and others offer simpler solutions. One of the most common tools funeral directors offer is an Executor checklist. Our recent online survey found that roughly 40% of executors in Canada and USA had used a checklist provided by a funeral home. Executor checklists come by a number of titles including:

  • Executor to-do list
  • Executor duties list
  • Estate settlement checklist
  • Checklist for estate administration
  • After a death checklist
  • What to do when someone dies
  • What to do after death
  • Post-loss checklist

These lists are usually one to three page documents outlining the steps required to settle a loved one’s affairs. They inform clients about the need to complete probate applications, government notifications, benefits, insurance and pension claims, and asset management tasks. Lists like this are given out not only by funeral directors but also by lawyers, insurance providers, and accountants. For funeral directors, the list is typically provided during an arranging meeting or as part of an aftercare program.

So what are the pros and cons of this tool for estate management?

Let's look at the positives first.

  • Clearly, executor checklists are simple and straightforward: people can easily read through a checklist, monitor their progress, and keep the document handy, either in a physical or digital format.
  • Lists are efficient, delivering a lot of information in a concise form.
  • They are also affordable, whether costing 15 cents per printed page or as a free PDF or Microsoft Word file. This is one tool that won’t break the bank.
  • All in all, checklists are helpful as initial orientation documents, introducing family members and executors to their legal, financial, and institutional obligations.

Now, let's look at the downsides.

  • Although they may be concise, checklists can be overwhelming since they provide little context for completing executor tasks. Usually, internet searches have to be completed to find instructions and forms.
  • As an extension of this, checklists are one-size-fits-all solutions, meaning that regional or local variations in processes, structures, and institutions are not presented.
  • One of the biggest disadvantages of checklists is that they can easily become outdated. To confront this, funeral home staff either need to update the checklists on regular basis or rely on others to inform them when information has become out of date.
  • Checklists are rarely “comprehensive” or “complete” - even when they are claimed to be so. Many funeral homes will be upfront about this, informing their families that the list is not exhaustive and should be supplemented with further research (a good idea, since it prevents executors from being disappointed if or when the list is missing something).
  • As a final disadvantage, executor checklists usually require some follow-up to clarify processes, timelines, or roles not fully explained in the checklist. In other words, the checklist document itself is more of a starting point rather than being a complete solution to estate management.
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  • Understandable format
  • Affordable
  • Helps families broadly understand duties
  • Big picture/timeline


  • Overwhelming
  • One-size-fits-all: families do not know which tasks do or do not apply to them
  • Can become outdated
  • Not comprehensive
  • Lacking instructions and forms
  • Narrow geographic scope
  • follow-up and clarification often needed from funeral home staff.

Overall, executor checklists are a valuable starting point for clients of funeral homes and estate lawyers. Still, for a solution that is comprehensive, up-to-date, and tailored to the executors’ particular circumstances, Cadence’s easy-to-use software may be a more appropriate option. With access to expert support and tools to speed up the paperwork, Cadence saves families time and helps them move through the process with confidence. Get in touch with a representative to learn more about how Cadence can benefit your funeral home.

If you’d like to read more about different estate management solutions and their benefits and drawbacks, stay tuned for our upcoming White Paper, titled Supporting Families with Estate Settlement: Challenges & Opportunities for Funeral Service Professionals. In the paper, we outline the merits and limitations of the most common funeral home solutions to estate administration, including checklists, estate kits, final document services, and more.