How to Handle an Estate

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How to Handle an Estate

An easy guide for fulfilling your duties as the Executor of an estate

 Executor of an estate

If you've been either appointed or named the Executor or Personal Representative of a loved one's estate, there are certain responsibilities and duties that you will be required to carry out in order to make sure the estate is handled properly. The goal of this article is to help you fulfill your responsibilities in this important role.

General Duties and Responsibilities

Once you have been appointed as the Executor of your loved one's estate, you will need to obtain a "short certificate" from the Register of Wills for the county processing the estate. The short certificate is the document that proves you are authorized to carry out your duties as Executor.

You will need to provide original copies of the short certificate to each insurance company you are entitled to benefits from, and to obtain other legal documents or information related to your loved one's estate. The Register of Wills will provide you with as many original copies as you request.

As Personal Representative or Executor of an estate, it is your job to locate any of the decedent's safety deposit boxes and keys.

You should locate all life insurance policies and notify the insurance company(s) of the death of their policyholder. Obtain the names, addresses and other contact information for the claims representative you will be dealing with and provide them with a copy of  the death certificate and short certificate.

If your loved one died in an automobile accident, their automobile insurance carrier should be promptly notified. If your loved one died as a result of another parties negligence,  have your personal injury attorney handle all insurance company communication for you. In all cases, auto and homeowner’s insurance policies owned by your loved one should be modified to reflect a change in ownership or cancelled to avoid unnecessary premiums.

If the decedent rented their home, or leased their automobile, consider how soon the lease or rental agreement can be terminated, and take steps to do so. If you are selling, or terminating a lease for any type of real estate, consider the time you will need to gather up the contents of that property for distribution in accordance with the decedent's will or if they died intestate, in accordance with state law.

If the deceased had any investments, pension funds, bank accounts, work related life insurance and benefits, you will want to locate documents related to these assets and notify the appropriate companies of the death. They will also want an original or copy of the short certificate in most cases.

Do not delay in interviewing and retaining a competent, experienced personal injury attorney if your loved one died as a result of someone else's negligence or crime. Key witnesses in your wrongful death claim may not be available if you wait too long. Even if witnesses are found months later, they won't remember things as clearly.

The Inventory of the Estate

One of your first jobs as a Personal Representative is to complete an inventory of the estate by locating and taking possession of all of the property and assets owned by the decedent. The value of all of the property must be determined. Professionals such as an accountant, attorney, real estate/personal property appraiser, or a financial advisor can help you with issues that arise related to valuing estate property. Once an inventory is completed, it must be filed with the Probate Court.
You should also consider retaining a Probate attorney to help you administer the estate properly and to make sure all the necessary paperwork is filed with the Court. The probate attorney's fee will generally be paid by the assets of the estate.

Notify Creditors

You will need to take various steps, possibly including a newspaper ad, to notify any creditors of the death of your loved one. Then you will need to make a list of all known  debts, and make arrangements to have these debts paid out of the money from the estate.

Estate Taxes

Because the estate tax laws change from year to year, it's important that once you have determined the total value of the estate, find out if any estate taxes have to be paid to the Federal government and/or your state government. Your Probate attorney and accountant can assist you in making this determination.

Disbursement of Assets

Once all the debts and estate taxes are paid, the Probate Court will then issue an order to have the remaining assets divided up and disbursed to the beneficiaries according to the Last Will and Testament of the deceased. If your loved one died without a will (this is called “intestacy”), then the Probate Court will use the laws of your state to determine the percentage of the assets that each entitled beneficiary will receive. It is then the duty of the Personal Representative to make sure those assets are distributed according to the order of the Probate Court.


Because the job of a Personal Representative is important and requires a fair amount of work, it's strongly recommended that if you are appointed Executor or Personal Representative of a loved one's estate, seek out the advice of the professionals described above to help you fulfill the important responsibility of properly administering your loved one's estate.


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