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How can I prepare for being the personal representative of an estate?

While being named as the personal representative (another way of saying executor or administrator) of a friend or loved one’s estate may be an honor, it is also a serious responsibility. In fact, managing deceased person’s assets can be complicated and stressful, but there are steps you can take to make getting the job done easier.

The first thing to recognize is that coping with the loss of a family member or friend is emotionally challenging. Dealing with grief can not only make you sad, but also irritable and anxious, all of which can affect your ability to think clearly and to make reasonable decisions. While there may be things that need to be done quickly, such as arranging for the funeral, everyone should take time to mourn the loss of a loved one before assuming the duties of an executor.

Once you’re in the proper frame of mind, it’s important to realize settling an estate means dealing with complicated documents including wills, trusts, pleadings, notices, financial documents, deeds, bank and investment account statements, tax returns and insurance claim forms as well as understanding the probate process and complying with all the rules governing it. In addition, there may be debts to pay and assets that need to be appraised and sold. Finally, everything you do will be subject to the oversight of a probate judge, who will set deadlines and requirements that you must meet. Thus, the personal representative has duties to the creditors, the beneficiaries, and the court. For this reason, should you engage the services of an experienced estate and probate administration attorney who can help you navigate the process.

Perhaps the most difficult task you will face is communicating with beneficiaries. You owe them a duty to maximize the value  of the estate and to provide a formal accounting of all the assets that you marchall, spend, and distribute in your role as administrator. Not only do they have a vested interest in the estate assets, they will also be dealing with their grief. It is important to communicate with them regularly to keep them up to date and put their minds at ease. Similarly, it is equally vital for you to take care of yourself. Grief and sadness may linger and the stress of the loss can deplete you emotionally and physically. Be sure to rest, eat right, exercise and seek counseling, if needed.  

The Takeaway

Being an executor is a time-consuming process and settling an estate typically takes about a year. While beneficiaries may pressure you to rush, your work should be broken down into manageable parts over time. If you know that you are being named as a personal representative in someone’s will, it is also helpful to learn as much as possible from the person before they pass away such as where the will is kept, information about their assets, account numbers and whether they are working with an attorney. Being named personal representative of an estate can be stressful, but being prepared and working closely with an experienced estate and probate administration attorney can make dealing with the situation easier.