The Probate Process: Part II - First Steps

In our recent post, The Probate Process: Part I, we provided an overview of the process while highlighting some of the key steps.

Now, we will discuss in depth the initial steps.

Once appointed as personal representative, the administration process has officially begun. So what should you be doing?

A key first step is to have all physical mail for the deceased forwarded to your address and get access to email accounts in order to find bills and assets of the estate. This will help you later when it comes time to serve formal notice on creditors and prepare the inventory of assets.

Most probate estates need to open an estate bank account to deposit cash assets and pay for the expenses of administration. This account will require you to obtain a Federal EIN taxpayer identification number. Once applied for, the IRS will issue a specific EIN number that will be used like a social security number to open an estate bank account. This account will be used in the final accounting, so it is very important that all transactions in this account be cleared with your legal counsel and used for official estate business only.

As personal representative, you are entitled to possession and control of all estate assets. You have a duty to identify, protect and preserve the estate assets. This initial stage of administration is all about identifying, collecting, inventorying, valuing securing and investing the assets of the estate. Most financial institutions will require you produce a certified copy of the letters of administration before releasing the assets to you, so it is wise to go ahead and order a few certified copies of the letters of administration as soon as you are appointed personal representative.

An important note regarding vehicles of the estate, DO NOT DRIVE IT. The estate could be liable for damages resulting from an accident. Thus, it is crucial to avoid driving the vehicle until the rights have been transferred, or sold to another legal owner.

Another key step is to verify that tangible personal property and real estate property are properly insured with adequate coverage. It is part of your duty to protect the estate from loss, and insurance is a key part of that protection.

Finally, the first steps include providing proper notice to all interested parties. This includes beneficiaries and creditors of the estate. A notice of administration should be served on all interested parties, and a notice to creditors should be served on all known, or reasonably ascertainable, creditors. There is also a statutory requirement to publish a notice to creditors in local newspaper of general circulation. A proof of service of notice and publication of the notice must also be filed with the probate court.

In any event, you should always consult with your attorney if you have any questions or concerns about these first steps of the probate process. In our next blog, we will delve into the inventory and accounting components of probate.