Being the personal representative (executor or administrator) of an estate is a big undertaking.  The responsibility can be overwhelming at times so it’s important to know what you are getting into and take the time to make an informed decision.  If the deceased left a will (testate) then that will names the executor.  If you are named it does not mean you have to accept, but know that you were named because the decadent believed you were the right person for the job.  If the deceased did not leave a will (intestate), then the probate court will appoint an administrator.  Usually someone will petition to be the administrator and if nobody accepts the court could appoint a probate lawyer to act on the estates behalf.

What are the personal representatives duties?  Below is a list broken down into sections to help understand the process better.

Notify Next of Kin, Collect Debts and Record the Assets

  • Find all the documentation and papers (Will, death certificate, birth certificate, marriage certificate)
  • File the papers with the probate court (In New Jersey it is called the Surrogate Court)
  • Determine if there was any life insurance and if so file the appropriate claim forms (you may also need a statement from the doctors)
  • Obtain social security burial allowance if applicable.
  • Did the deceased have any benefits? (veteran’s, social security or pension)
  • Transfer any bank accounts to the estate
  • Collect all assets.  These things include stocks, bonds. automobiles, furniture, jewelry, status of any business, deeds, real estate owned, etc…
  • Locate names and addresses of all heirs, legatees, devisees and next of kin.  Notify all interested parties of the probate within 60 days: advising of the name & address of the Executor, the place & date of the probate, & that a copy of the will be furnished upon request. If there are charitable bequests, notice must be given to the Attorney General of NJ. A proof of mailing is filed with the Surrogate’s Court.

Determine all Debts and Claims against the Estate

  • What are the current bills owed (doctor, hospital, rent, utilities, etc.) and arrange to pay.
  • Discontinue services on charge accounts
  • Are there any outstanding debts such as mortgage, life insurance, car loan?
  • To determine if the beneficiary is a child support judgment debtor,obtain an identification certification from each beneficiary, and order a certified child support judgment search from a private judgment search company. Publish Death Notice about claims against the estate in newspaper
  • Review all claims for their validity, amount and correctness.
  • Oppose any false claims

Manage the Estate

  • Set up bookkeeping records and / or an estate account.
  • Re-register stocks, bonds; arrange for collection of dividends and interest.
  • Inventory all items of property and arrange for their appraisal.
  • Examine all real estate as to condition, adequacy of insurance, status of taxes and assessments.
  • Collects rents, make reports, obtain tenants, maintain necessary insurance in force, arrange for electricity, fuel, telephone, etc.
  • Review all investments as to safety and quality; make necessary changes as prudence indicates.
  • Examine books and records of any business interest. Have necessary audits and appraisals made.
  • Supervise the family owned business.
  • Request allowance from court for support of deceased’s family.

Determine and Pay all Taxes

  • Compute value of estate and probable state and federal taxes.
  • Select valuation date for federal estate tax.
  • Determine whether administrative expenses should be charged against income taxes or estate taxes.
  • Prepare estate’s income tax return also last income tax return of decedent.
  • Determine charitable and other deductions.
  • Determine how funds will be raised to pay taxes.
  • Prepare inheritance tax returns.
  • Prepare federal inheritance tax returns.
  • Pay personal property or real estate taxes, if any.

Distribute the Assets

  • Determine who is entitled to share in the estate.
  • Sell assets to raise cash for specific legacies.
  • Determine how assets will be distributed, which legatee and devisee is to get each item of property.
  • Pay all final costs.(Including any child support obligation).
  • Arrange for transfer and re-register of securities.
  • Prepare detailed informal or formal account for court.
  • Obtain release and refunding bonds from all beneficiaries and file with Surrogate’s Court.

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