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How To Administer An Estate

How To Administer An Estate

A family member or other interested, responsible party can petition the probate court to be appointed the personal representative who will administer the decedent's estate. As a starting point, once the personal representative is appointed, it is necessary to gather key estate documents and information, such as:

  • Notice to creditors of decedent's death for making estate claims;
  • Information on publication fees for notice to creditors;
  • Identification of decedent (license, Social Security card, birth certificate, etc.);
  • Affidavit of death of joint tenant;
  • Information on applicable court fees for probate;
  • Court forms for probate;
  • Bank account records for decedent;
  • Titles to any cars, boats or planes owned by decedent;
  • Information and documents regarding decedent's securities (stocks, bonds, mutual funds, retirement accounts);
  • Death certificate for decedent;
  • Life insurance policies;
  • Annuities;
  • Recent tax filing forms (state and federal) for the past year or two;
  • Information on applicable inheritance taxes;
  • Social Security forms;
  • Information on executor fees;
  • Information on any bond requirements; and
  • Information on attorneys' fees.

Documents Are Gathered; Now What?

The estate's personal representative needs to undertake key duties to properly administer the decedent's estate. The representative must:

  1. Obtain a copy of the decedent's death certificate that is certified. Certified copies of death certificates are available for a fee.
  2. Inventory all estate property (real estate, personal property, accounts, etc.). Include all assets and liabilities in this exercise. Then, calculate the total value of the estate after all claims made by estate creditors are paid. This net value of the estate is used to determine whether the estate may be exempt from the probate process due to its small size and qualify for what is referred to as a small estate exemption.
  3. File the appropriate court forms required by your jurisdiction to administer the estate. The forms are usually available online for free on the court's website or by going to the clerk's office to obtain a hard copy.
  4. Review the laws of your state on the distribution and transfer of small estates and the limits and thresholds for same, so that you are aware of what can be accomplished outside of probate and short of court oversight and/or intervention.
  5. File and publish a creditors' notice in your local paper for the requisite period of time, so creditors are aware of the estate and can assert claims.
  6. Transfer estate property ownership for certain property to yourself if you are a joint tenant who co-owned the items with decedent, such as real estate, cars, boats and planes. The beneficiary on life insurance policies and annuities is to receive their proceeds payments directly from vendor companies.
  7. File the decedent's death notice with the Social Security Administration.