I Am an Executor/Administrator of an Estate—Now What?

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I often receive calls from individuals and clients who have been designated as a Personal Representative or Executor and are wondering what they are required to do now that a loved one has passed away.  Personal Representatives may either be named as an Executor or as an Administrator. An Executor is a person whom a decedent names in his or her Will to be in charge of the administration of the estate.  An Administrator is the person who has the same role as the Executor, but rather than being selected by the decedent, this individual appointed by the Court to be in charge of the estate when someone dies without a Last Will and Testament.  The Court-appointed Administrator is often a spouse, child, or other loved one usually with some interest in the administration of the estate.

Both the Executor and the Administrator are appointed by the probate court and have to meet certain requirements.  It is important to note that the Executors do not receive their authority under the Will until they are appointed by the Court and the Will is admitted to probate.  Typically, in New Hampshire, in order to be appointed, the Court will require that the Executor or Administrator file a bond with the Court in order to secure their actions and duties as an Administrator.  The cost for obtaining this bond will depend on both the size of the estate and the creditworthiness of the individual obtaining the probate bond.  Therefore, while people may know ahead of time that they have been named in the Will as an Executor, they cannot immediately begin exercising control over the decedent’s assets or distributing assets until the probate court appoints them to their role.  Additionally, if someone has been named as Executor and does not wish to fulfill the role, he or she may refuse and the Court can appoint the successor named in the Will or to the next person in line who is willing to accept the role by the Court.

Both Executors and Administrators are court appointed fiduciaries, meaning that they have been given or charged with a duty of trust and responsibility imposed by the law.  A Personal Representative has clear duties while carrying out the administration of an estate.  Those duties include, but may not be limited to, the following: 

  • Assess and inventory estate assets
  • Filing necessary paperwork, including inventories and accountings at appropriates times with the Court
  • Provide notice to beneficiaries and creditors
  • Paying just debts of the decedent at the appropriate time
  • Distributing assets to the beneficiaries
  • Bring necessary actions or litigation on behalf of the estate or defend litigation brought against the estate of the decedent
  • Maintaining estate assets, such as real estate or businesses, so not to diminish their value
  • Filing all last tax returns of the decedent, any necessary estate taxes on behalf of the estate, and filing tax returns on behalf of the estate.

Serving as a Personal Representative is not a duty to be taken lightly.  If you are designated as an Executor or Personal Representative, consider contacting an estate planning attorney who can give you guidance on what your duties and obligations are under the law.  Some Personal Representatives need limited assistance and a one-time consultation where they receive an overview of the responsibilities of being an Administrator is all the education they need to complete the day-to-day requirements on their own.  In other situations, the estate assets or family dynamics can be more complicated and more hands-on navigation of the probate process is necessary by legal counsel.  In those instances, the firm is happy to assist with the drafting of Inventories or accumulation of accounting information in order to provide the necessary reports with the Court.