Being appointed to handle a friend or loved ones' estate is an undisputed honor, and only the most trusted and honest acquaintances are asked to fulfill these duties. It's a good idea, however, to understand what you are in for when it comes to the requirements. Being a personal representative (or executor) is not just a title or honor, it means that you have a job ahead of you. To learn more about what will be expected of you during the probate process and the paperwork you will be dealing with, read on.
Make sure you want this duty.
Whether you know about it ahead of time or you are surprised by being named a personal representative, you should understand that you do have the right to turn the job down. This job can involve quite a bit of work on your part, depending on the size and complexity of the estate. It can mean anything from a few tasks to months and months of work. If you have doubts about taking on this duty, speak to the estate attorney to get a better idea of what will be required of you. It should be noted that in some states and in some circumstances, the personal representatives are paid for their time, so consult with the estate attorney about this possibility. If you are not up to the job, an alternate will be appointed by the probate courts, and you also may have the option of bringing another personal representative on board to divide the work.
An overview of the various documentation you will need to put your hands on and use in the early days probate can help you know what is expected of you. For example:
- The last will and testament of the deceased. This can often be found in a safe place in the home, such as a locked box, drawer or safe. Some people place this document in their safe deposit boxes at a bank. As a last resort, you should be able to get a copy of the will from the estate attorney.
- Burial and life insurance policies. One of the primary (and initial) duties of the personal representative is to ensure that funds are available to pay the funeral and burial expenses. It is common to use burial and life insurance policies to pay these expenses, but in some cases the deceased has already made and paid for these arrangements directly with a funeral home.
- Bank account information. In most cases, the funds in the account will be automatically frozen after the death, and you will be responsible for opening up a new account under the name of the estate. For example, the new account will be known as "the estate of Ms. Jane Jones." As the personal representative, you will be a signer on this account and from it you will pay the bills of the estate, such as leftover utility bills, the estate attorney's fees, and more. You will also need to access any investment or savings accounts.
- Vehicle titles and property deeds.
- The most recent tax return.
- The death certificate. It can take a few weeks for this important document to become available, but it will be much needed so you should go ahead and order several certified copies. You will be providing this certificate to creditors, the Social Security Administration, the banks, and others.
To get more detailed information, talk to an estate attorney like Patricia K Wood Atty.