Are You a Legal Professional?

Estate Administration

Whenever a person dies, his or her estate needs to be collected and managed. Estate administration involves gathering the assets of the estate, paying the decedent's debts, and distributing the remaining assets. Without a basic understanding of the estate administration process, the whole experience can be pretty overwhelming. This section offers a number of resources on estate administration and executors. You’ll find articles on how to administer an estate, the treatment of debts after death, choosing the right executor, the duties of the executor, and much more. Choose a link from the list below to learn more about estate administration.

Estate Administration Basics

All of the things a person once owned make up their estate once they are deceased. Many estates must undergo probate proceedings, during which time someone has to be responsible for managing the estate to ensure that nothing is taken or loses value due to neglect. This person is usually called the "personal representative," though in some states they may also be called the "executor."

The personal representative or executor of an estate may be a person or a company such as a bank. Personal representatives may be nominated by the decedent in their will. If there is no will, or the will fails to nominate a personal representative; the court can appoint a personal representative, usually the surviving spouse or another close family member. In some cases more than one personal representative will be named.

The personal representative inventories the decedent's assets and informs the decedent's creditors that the decedent has died. If their assets are enough to pay the creditors they are paid from the estate. Otherwise the personal representative will need to seek the court's approval to determine who should be paid.

If there are assets remaining after the debts are paid the remainder of the assets are distributed according to the will. Those who do not have a will are called "intestate" and states have different rules regarding how assets are distributed under their laws relating to intestacy. Some small estates may escape probate altogether.

Executor Duties

The executor of an estate is charged with ensuring that the deceased's last wishes are granted regarding the disposition of their property and possessions. The law doesn't require the executor of a will to be a lawyer or accountant, but it does require that the executor fulfill their duties with the utmost honesty and diligence.

The executor of a will has many duties, depending on how complicated the will is. Some common duties include:

  • Identifying, locating, and maintaining the assets of the estate until they can be properly distributed. This includes determining which assets should be sold.
  • Determining whether probate is necessary.
  • Finding and contacting the beneficiaries named in the will.
  • Ensuring the will is filed with the appropriate probate court, which is often required even when probate proceedings are not necessary.
  • Financially managing the estate, including cancelling credit cards, notifying creditors and agencies, paying debts, making necessary payments such as mortgage and insurance payments, paying final income taxes, and setting up accounts to manage the finances.