One of the more unique experiences in life is being appointed as a personal representative of an estate. In my experience, most people have little knowledge of the function of a personal representative until they are placed in the role and even then, it can be a nebulous experience involving attorneys, the courts, and a whole lot of paperwork. Given that the appointment of a personal representative follows the death of a loved one, one typically assumes the role during a difficult season of life. The loss of a loved one is never easy, but the job of a personal representative should not necessarily be hard. A basic understanding of the probate process and a few simple strategies may relieve a great deal of unnecessary stress and anxiety.
Each of us own property. Some own very little while others own a great deal. The property a person owns is called an estate. One’s estate becomes particularly important upon one’s death; for, as the psalmist so aptly observed, the rich man takes nothing with him when he dies. So, what becomes of the property?
In Indiana and throughout the United States, the probate process directs the dissemination of property from the estate of a deceased person or decedent to their beneficiaries. Probate is overseen by the court system. In many instances, the court has minimal involvement in the day-to-day administration, but still must approve certain actions (e.g., opening the estate, appointing the personal representative, making sure an accounting is filed, resolving any claims, and closing the estate). Documents are filed with the court to open the estate, request the appointment of a personal representative, and close the estate, but the personal representative performs the administration.
To avoid unnecessary stress and anxiety when appointed personal representative of an estate, I propose three simple strategies.
1. Start and stay organized.
To perform the role of a personal representative well, you must be organized. The most important aspect of staying organized is keeping accurate records of the money and/or assets coming in and going out of the estate. Before closing the estate, the court requires an accounting of the transactions performed by the estate to ensure that the assets were properly administered and distributed to the beneficiaries. Preparing an accounting is much more difficult where the personal representative did not keep careful records. Taking just ten minutes each day to document the activities of the estate should facilitate accurate records of the estate.
2. Be responsive.
The probate process is deadline intensive and meeting (or failing to meet) certain deadlines may have a significant impact on what the beneficiaries eventually inherit. Creditors of the decedent only have a certain period of time to make a claim in the estate and recover the debt. Therefore, as personal representative, it is imperative to promptly review and sign (where appropriate) documents sent from your attorney. It is also important to notify your attorney of any bills or other possible debts that the decedent may have had. The estate has an obligation to notify any reasonably ascertainable creditor of the decedent’s death and the existence of the estate. Being responsive will hasten the probate process and decrease the likelihood of unanticipated claims against the estate.
3. Don’t be afraid to delegate.
Depending on the size of the estate, being appointed personal representative can be a considerable task for one individual. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Siblings and other family members are great resources and often more than willing to assist. From sorting through personal belongings to maintaining the decedent’s home to running errands, administering an estate is much more manageable if you simply ask for help. This is one of the easiest steps to take, yet, in my experience, many personal representatives neglect to ask for assistance. In difficult times such as the death of a loved one, family and friends become vitally important. Why not allow them to lessen the burden of probate?
For more helpful information about the probate process, specifically in Hamilton County, please click on this link. If you have additional questions or need assistance navigating probate or end of life circumstances, please feel free to reach out to our office to schedule a free consultation.
-Written by Zechariah D. Yoder