You may become the personal representative of an estate in two ways: the decedent named you executor in the will, or the court named you administrator. Either way, your duties are the same.
The role of personal representative includes a number of responsibilities that can become quite complex, so we often assist people in completing these.
Starting the probate process
According to the New Jersey Surrogate Court, you must find documentation such as the will and death certificate and file these with the court to begin the probate process. Next, you will collect debts, record assets and notify the decedent’s next of kin. This includes filing claim forms to the life insurance company, obtaining Social Security burial allowance and determining whether the decedent received Social Security, veterans or other benefits or had a pension plan.
You must take care of bills, loans, credit cards, bank accounts and other accounts, paying or settling them appropriately and transferring them or closing them out. After validating all claims against the estate, you may need to oppose false claims or post a death notice in the newspaper regarding those that are correct.
Managing the estate
Managing the estate involves a number of responsibilities. Keep careful records because the court needs a report of your actions to close the estate. The more the decedent owned, the greater your responsibilities. For example, if he or she owned a number of rental properties, you may have to collect rent and manage the properties. A family business may need supervision and audits of records.
Appraisals are necessary for all the decedent’s personal items and property because taxes will be due based on the value of the estate. Other taxes may also be due, such as:
- Personal income taxes
- State and federal inheritance taxes
- Personal property taxes
- Real estate taxes
You may have to raise funds by selling assets if the taxes exceed the amount available in the estate accounts.
Once all of these duties are complete, you can finally get down to the business of distributing assets to beneficiaries. If the decedent left a will, you follow these instructions, but if there is no will, you must distribute assets according to the state’s inheritance laws. After you submit your report to the court, you have fulfilled your role as personal representative. More information about the probate process is available on our webpage.