Perhaps your grandmother has just passed away. In her will she named you as the executor, or personal representative, of her estate.
You had not given much thought to the responsibilities you face, but your grandmother died suddenly and now you must act. What are your next steps?
The Pennsylvania probate process is fairly straightforward. You will account for the assets of the estate, pay the bills and make distributions to beneficiaries out of the assets that remain.
First you locate the will. If you do not know where your grandmother kept it, check with her attorney. Next, you pay the funeral expenses out of the estate. The funeral director furnishes copies of the death certificate that you can provide to your grandmother’s bank, the Social Security Administration and other entities who should be informed of her passing.
Assets and probate
Generally speaking, only those assets held solely in your grandmother’s name will have to pass through probate. Examples are personal property, cash and real estate. Assets that are not normally subject to probate include accounts with named beneficiaries, such as an IRA or an investment account, and the proceeds of an insurance policy.
You may have to do a little digging to discover what debts need resolving. A good place to start is the checkbook. You will also have to prepare the final state and federal tax returns and pay any amount that is due.
As a personal representative, you will be responsible for executing your duties according to the law. To do so, you should not hesitate to seek the help of an attorney, an accountant or any other professional who can answer questions, provide guidance and make sure you do not make any missteps.
Dealing with beneficiaries
Some beneficiaries become impatient regarding the distributions they expect to receive. Some go a step further and become belligerent. A personal representative should prepare for possible confrontations. For example, you can explain that you are fulfilling your duties according to Pennsylvania probate law and that you will give regular updates as they are available. Your attorney can provide backup if need be so that you can continue your work as your grandmother expected when she named you as her personal representative.