A distribution is the delivery of cash or an asset to a given heir. After resolving debts and paying any taxes due, the executor should distribute the remaining estate to the heirs in accordance with the instructions in the will (or as dictated by the court).
Before making any distributions, it's best to come up with an overall estate settlement plan: how you plan to resolve debts, which assets you plan to sell, which assets you plan to distribute directly, which heirs will get what, etc.
Your goal is to resolve all debts and to allocate 100% of the remaining value of the estate, with each heir scheduled to receive the proper items and the correct overall share of the estate. It's usually easiest to try to do things in this order:
If the estate will not have enough free cash to resolve all debts, even after liquidating all available assets in step 5, you may need to revisit some of the earlier steps in an attempt to satisfy estate creditors, since debts generally have precedence over other estate claims (see Insolvent Estates).
EstateExec makes the overall planning process easier by allowing you to mark whether you plan to sell or distribute each asset (see Reference: Asset Planning), and to define desired distributions to each heir (see Reference: Manage Distributions). You can then see at a glance which assets and heirs need more attention, and the Overview tab will show you overall estate progress.
Certain items are not passed through a will, such as life insurance, property held in joint tenancy or community property with the right of survivorship, funds in an IRA or 401K for which a beneficiary was named, stocks held in a transfer-on-death account, and so forth. You can choose to list these items as assets to help you keep things organized, but remember to create a Distribution for each with the "Reason" identified as "Beneficiary".
Texas allows a surviving spouse and any children to claim certain entitlements that supersede most other estate claims, in the following cumulative order:
Certain personal property is by default set aside for any surviving spouse, minor children, unmarried adult children, or any adult child who is incapacitated, up to an aggregate net value of $100K:
A homestead is officially defined as a house, condo, or mobile home owned by the decedent and used as his or her primary residence. A homestead can include up to 20 acres of land, if the land was owned by the decedent and related to the residential use of the homestead.
If a decedent's homestead was in use at the time of death by a surviving spouse or any children who were under 21, they can continue to reside at the homestead until the spouse passes away or the youngest child reaches adulthood, whichever comes later.
To be clear, the family is not automatically entitled to ownership of the entire homestead, but they can continue to reside there, even if title passes to someone else.
Family members entitled to exempt property can elect to take the equivalent of the property in some other form if desired (for example, money). An allowance in lieu of personal property may not exceed $30,000, and an allowance in lieu of a homestead may not exceed $45,000.
By default, any surviving spouse, the decedent's minor or adult incapacitated children are entitled to proceeds from the estate for one year of maintenance, unless those parties have sufficient property of their own to pay for themselves.
Such living allowances are NOT excluded when calculating small estate valuation, and Class 1 creditor claims have priority over such allowances. Class 1 claims consist of reasonable funeral expenses and expenses of the decedent's last illness, not to exceed $15,000 for funeral expenses and $15,000 for expenses of the decedent's last illness.
Since people commonly ask, note that TX has no notion of a surviving spouse elective share (since the state is already a community property state).
Note that wills sometimes specify that certain assets or dollar amounts are to be distributed to certain heirs. You can mark these bequests via the Distribution dialog (see Manage Distributions). However, not all such bequests can be honored: sometimes the asset is no longer part of the estate; sometimes the bequest conflicts with local law (e.g., community property); sometimes the asset must be sold (as a last resort) in order to pay estate debts.
The will usually specifies the percentage of the net estate that each heir should receive. For example, if the will says that Sally should get 40% of the estate, and the estate is worth $200K, then Sally is be entitled to $80K worth of assets and cash, and all of the defined distributions for Sally should add up to $80K.
Tip: You can enter these target percentages on the EstateExec Heirs tab, and as you define distributions, see how you you are doing in reaching these targets in the Heir Target Allocation chart on the Overview tab (for additional tips, see EstateExec Reference: Manage Distributions).
A charitable donation is really just an estate distribution to a particular type of heir (a charity). The executor does not have the right to give away items of value to charities unless specifically authorized by the will or the court.
Actually making distributions to heirs is usually one of the last things the executor does in settling the estate. Although it is best practice to make all the distributions at the end of the process, it is usually permissible to make some distributions earlier if desired (be especially careful of restrictions if the estate is going through probate). Once you have actually made a given distribution, you should mark it Done.
It is good practice to require all heirs to sign a receipt for any distributions (the receipt can cover multiple items). When making final distributions to an heir, it is also good practice to have that person sign a document (perhaps prepared by an attorney), stating that he or she approves of your actions as executor and confirms that he or she has received everything due.
Discount $$: EstateExec users can access significant discounts on third-party shipping services (see Task: Make all distributions).
See also EstateExec Reference: Manage Distributions for specifics about using EstateExec to organize, plan, and document distributions that satisfy the directives of the will (and/or the court).