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The Personal Representative’s Duties

Prior to the appointment as personal representative, the person seeking to be appointed will:

  • make a reasonable attempt to identify the extent of the deceased person’s assets;
  • make a reasonable attempt to identify the decedent’s creditors;
  • file the petition to begin the probate court proceeding (usually prepared by a probate attorney);
  • arrange for written notice of the probate proceeding to be sent to interested beneficiaries or heirs;
  • arrange for the publication of a notice about the probate proceeding in a local paper (attorney typically handles).

Once appointed by the court, the personal representative:

  • collects and inventories the decedent’s probate assets;
  • pays all valid debts of the decedent;
  • oversees the filing of the decedent’s final income tax return and any estate tax returns, and sees that any income or estate taxes due are paid (state and federal).
  • After payment of all debts and any taxes due, the personal representative distributes what’s left over to the beneficiaries pursuant to the terms of the will, or to the decedent’s heirs-at-law if the decedent did not have a will.

Depending on whether the case is a formal probate or an informal probate, the personal representative may need to seek prior court approval before taking certain actions, but the sequence remains the same: identify the assets and debts, pay the debts and taxes, distribute what’s left to named beneficiaries under the Will (if there was a Will) or to heirs determined by the court (if there wasn’t a Will).