As you may be aware, if you have been appointed or nominated to serve as the personal representative, executor or executrix of an estate, you must first file the Last Will and Testament of a deceased person with the relevant probate court (usually in the County and State where the deceased person was domiciled) before taking actions on behalf of the one who died. The next step after filing a Will is to prepare and file the necessary paperwork to have your appointment/nomination approved by the local probate Court. These are the first two (2) steps involved in the administrative probate process. This type of probate is called “administrative”, because it involves the filing and processing of paperwork, versus participating in a Court hearing to confirm the appointment/nomination of a Personal Representative, Executor or Executrix listed in a Will. If a Court hearing is required, the process is referred to as “judicial” probate. The administrative probate process involves reporting the assets and debts of the deceased person, along with relevant information regarding (1) the date and place of death, (2) who the deceased person’s heirs-at-law would be, as well as those who stand to inherit items left to them in a Will (these persons are called “legatees”). Proof of death (a sealed death certificate) must also be presented to the Court.
You should be aware that if you have been appointed or nominated to serve as personal representative, executor or executrix, even if the Will excuses you from the obligation of filing a bond, oftentimes, Courts will require that the appointed/nominated person be bonded as a condition to the Court granting the right to take charge of, and manage a deceased person’s estate. This is often the case regardless of whether you are related to the deceased person, although some states excuse the requirement of posting a bond for precisely that reason. The bonding process involves obtaining an insurance policy to ensure that the creditors of the estate are protected and/or that the interests of the heirs of the estate are protected from being misappropriated or stolen by the one in charge of the estate.
Once the proper paperwork has been filed and the appointment/nomination has been approved by the Court, an Order is issued by the Court. This Court Order is the official notice to the world that a person has been placed in charge of the assets (and debts) of a deceased person’s estate and no one else has the right to make decisions concerning the estate. In addition to the probate Court’s Order, in many cases, Letters of Administration or Letters Testamentary are issued at the same time. These Letters allow the Personal Representative, Executor or Executrix to present an official Court-approved (usually sealed or stamped) document to banks, mortgage companies and investment companies in order to deal with, and eventually distribute the assets of the deceased person, as well as to negotiate with creditors and to compromise a deceased person’s debts.
If you are a person who has been Court-approved/appointed to serve as a personal representative, or an executor or executrix, it is important to remember that your actions must be both prudent and in the best interests of the estate and all those involved. If you have any doubts as to whether an action can, or should be taken, it is wise to seek the advise of an experienced probate attorney and/or the court’s approval before taking any actions that you believe will carry out the wishes stated in a deceased person’s Will.