Read on for more information about the probate process and how our wills and trust planning attorneys can help guide a personal representative.
Within a few months of being appointed, a personal representative is required to prepare and file an inventory of the decedent’s estate. The timeframe for this important chore is set by statute. This inventory should detail all of the assets subject to probate (i.e., that did not pass outside of probate by operation of law or otherwise). The property must be valued and even appraised as necessary.
Another major part of the probate process is handling any creditor claims. A personal representative is required to determine all creditors that are reasonably ascertainable. This usually means going through mail, identifying monthly bills, credit card balances, mortgages, and vehicle loans. Proper notices must be given to creditors, which may include entering a publication in the appropriate newspaper and sending written notice to known creditors. Some personal representatives are under the mistaken impression that all debts must be paid. Some states however provide “permissive notice” to unsecured creditors. This may avoid paying some unsecured claims thereby allowing more money to stay in the estate.
Once the above is completed, the personal representative is responsible for filing the tax returns for the decedent and for the estate. While the personal representative is not personally liable to pay the creditors or taxes of the decedent, he or she is responsible for paying creditors and taxes using the estate’s assets.
Overall, the personal representative is responsible for the care and maintenance of the decedent’s assets, treating them with even greater care than his or her own property. The personal representative must take into his or her possession, all assets within the estate and distribute according to the Will, or if no Will exists, then in accordance with the laws and regulations of the state.
All this is not to say that personal representatives do not need to keep beneficiaries informed during the process. The personal representative must keep the beneficiaries in the loop, which includes providing each with notice via certified mail that the will has been admitted to probate, along with a copy of the will if one exists. In addition, the personal representative must inform the beneficiaries regarding any information that might affect their rights. For instance, beneficiaries have the right to ask for a formal accounting at the completion of the probate or the right to request special notice throughout the probate process.