Estate beneficiaries are simply not allowed to cash or deposit checks made out to the deceased or their estate. As a beneficiary, you receive any assets you're entitled to during or after probate. During the probate process, a named executor gathers the decedent's assets, pays their final expenses and carries out the requests made in their will. It is this estate executor who has the legal authority to manage the estate's assets and affairs, not the beneficiary. It is possible, however, for a single individual to be both an executor and a beneficiary.
Choosing an Executor
Bills and income don't stop coming when a person dies. It takes time for the news of their passing to spread and for the survivors to close bank accounts, transfer or sell assets and take care of the person's final expenses. Usually, one person receives the authority to perform these tasks and handle the decedent's affairs. This person becomes the executor of the estate. In some cases, the decedent specifies in their will who they want to do this job. If not, you can go the probate court and request that they make you the executor.
The Estate Account
Once named, the executor should open a bank account in the name of the estate. In order to do so, the executor must first apply for an employer identification number (EIN) number from the IRS. The executor can open an estate bank account as soon as he has this number. This bank account becomes the place where the decedent's cash assets get collected and managed. The executor can write checks from this account to pay outstanding bills and can deposit checks into the account. The executor can deposit or cash a check made out to the deceased according to the bank's rules.
Cash Outstanding Checks
In some instances, a person may write you a check and then die before you can cash it. Your check is still valid if this happens. Take the check to your bank and cash or deposit it quickly. If the account remains open and contains adequate funds, the check will clear as it normally would. Some states require that you cash the check within 10 days of the death, however.
If the executor has closed the account or moved the money, or if the bank freezes the account, the check you received may bounce and remain unpaid. If it does, take the check to the executor and request that he write you a new one from the estate account. If there are more creditors than money, you may have to file as a creditor with the court and wait. In this instance, the executor will pay you only after creditors with a higher claim ranking receive their payments.