After someone dies, his or her estate may have to go through probate before passing on to beneficiaries. This is the legal process of verifying the deceased’s will and wrapping up the estate’s affairs, including gathering assets, discharging debts and distributing the remainder.
Often, the estate’s personal representative, named in the will, is the one responsible for guiding the estate through the probate process.
Making an inventory of assets
One of the first duties of the personal representative is locating, appraising and inventorying the deceased’s assets. In addition to personal items and real estate, this list of assets may include savings, investment or retirement accounts.
Paying the estate’s final expenses
The representative is also responsible for locating, verifying and fulfilling valid creditor claims to the estate. Examples of final expenses may include mortgage payments, recent medical and funeral bills, estate administration costs and amounts due for state and federal taxes.
The representative should give notice to beneficiaries that the probate process has begun shortly after accepting the role. However, he or she cannot distribute assets that must pass through probate until the process is complete.
From contacting the correct beneficiaries to handling potentially complex financial issues related to settling the estate, the law may hold a personal representative liable for oversights, mistakes or mismanagement. That is especially true if the representative’s actions cause harm to beneficiaries.
Those choosing a representative may want to consider how organized, capable and conscientious he or she may be when acting on the estate’s behalf.