Responsibilities of the Personal Representative
Take Immediate Action after Death:
1. Determine if there is a will.
2. Determine who the heirs and/or will devisees are.
3. Make funeral arrangements if the will so directs, or encourage the nearest of kin to do so.
4. Read the will and distribute copies to devisees and discuss its meaning. If there is no will, explain estate distribution under the laws of intestacy to the entitled heirs.
Obtain Authority As Personal Representative and Start Duties
1. File a Formal Petition or an Informal Application to begin estate administration.
2. Request opening and inventory of the decedent’s safe deposit boxes, according to law.
3. Gather information including the heirs’ names, the estate assets and value, and information for tax preparation.
4. Set up an accurate system to record all estate transactions.
5. Arrange for the decedent’s mail to be forwarded to you.
6. Prepare to collect dividends, interest, and other income from businesses and other property owned by the decedent.
7. Determine insurance, social security, pensions, veterans, or other benefits payable to the estate or its beneficiaries.
8. Give notice in the manner provided by law to creditors of the estate for filing of claims.
Bring Together Estate Assets
1. Seek ancillary administration in other states where the decedent owned assets, if necessary.
2. Obtain possession of all known assets of decedent on behalf of the estate.
3. Confer with business associates and others who may know of the decedent’s other property holdings.
4. Examine decedent’s records and old tax returns for income patterns which may indicate assets.
5. Obtain the valuation of the estate assets with readily ascertainable value.
6. Employ appraisers, if necessary, to ascertain the value of real estate, antiques, art, collections, or other assets without definite value.
7. Examine real estate leases and mortgages and determine what effect they have on asset valuation.
8. Prepare, with extreme care, the estate inventory reflecting the value of property as of the date of death.
Administer the Estate
1. Approve or object to the validity of claims filed by creditors of the estate, obtaining court determination when necessary.
2. Rank authenticated claims according to their statutory priority in case of inadequate estate assets.
3. Provide for priorities and allowances for spouse and family and notify spouse of elective rights, if applicable.
4. Provide for the payment of the deceased’s installments debts where failure to do so will lose valuable estate assets by foreclosure or repossession.
5. Operate any business of the decedent if it will benefit the estate and is authorized by the will or the court.
6. Maintain prudent investment practices and carefully record all investment transactions.
7. Plan to meet ultimate obligations of taxes, claims, and distributions.
8. Follow legal requirements when any sale of assets is necessary.
9. Obtain clearances from both state and federal taxing authorities.
10. Maintain insurance on all property.
11. Prepare annual accountings.
12. Make distributions to devisees and/or heirs in accordance with the will or intestacy provisions, obtaining court approval when necessary.
The Personal Representative will be held responsible for how the estate property is managed. He or she may employ an attorney, accountant, investment manager, and/or other qualified persons, but they still remain ultimately responsible.
Investment of Funds
The Personal Representative is expected to carefully manage the estate assets. They cannot be wasteful. The estate assets must be preserved by getting the maximum return with minimal risk. Investments are dictated by the will, trust document, state law or court order. Typical investments are insured savings accounts, certificates of deposit, money market accounts, stocks, bonds, mortgages (as creditor rather than debtor), notes, and securities.
The interested persons of the estate must be kept informed of all relevant events throughout the estate administration, and they must be served with copies of all documents required by court rule or statute.
Removing a Personal Representative
If the Personal Representative refuses or fails to perform any of his or her duties, an interested person or the court may begin proceedings to order him or her to perform those duties or to remove him or her as personal representative.
Additionally, the Personal Representative may be required to repay the estate for any losses caused by his or her mistakes or by failing to act quickly or wisely.
The Personal Representative is responsible for preparing and filing tax returns for the decedent and the estate. He or she is also responsible for paying any taxes due from estate funds. If improper or excessive distributions are made, leaving estate funds insufficient to meet tax obligations, he or she may be ordered to pay the deficiency from his or her own funds.
Tax returns must be timely filed (if applicable) for the decedent and for the estate: federal, state and city income, state intangibles, and single business as well as estate taxes.
Assets that are not subject to probate, such as joint property, most insurance proceeds, some trusts, and other forms of transfers, may still be subject to federal estate taxes.