Managing Estate Assets

Personal Representative’s Responsibilities for Managing Estate Assets

As personal representative you are charged with safeguarding the decedent’s property until final distributions are made to the beneficiaries. For tangible personal property (i.e., jewelry, vehicles, furniture, etc.) this may involve relocating such tangible personal property to a secure location or purchasing insurance on them. For intangible property (i.e., stocks, bonds, cds, etc.) this may mean reinvesting such intangible assets in a more conservative manner to minimize unacceptable risks. Regarding real property, the personal representative is responsible for the general upkeep of the property including utilities, insurance, property taxes and mortgage payments.

The personal representative must open a bank account for the estate. All cash of the estate or payments made to the decedent or the estate should be kept separate from your own property and deposited into the estate’s bank account under the estate’s tax identification number (not under the decedent’s Social Security number or your Social Security number). Your attorney should assist you with obtaining a federal tax identification number for the decedent’s estate. A detailed record of all estate transactions should be kept. No checks should be written on the estate’s account unless they are for the lawful debts of the decedent, for taxes, or for funeral/administration expenses. If accountings are not waived by the probate court, then you will need to provide your attorney with copies of all estate bank-account statements and all cancelled checks from the estate account so they can prepare the necessary accountings.

If the decedent had a safe deposit box, the personal representative should create a list of the contents of the box, the name of the financial institution where the box is located, the box number and the names of any co-renters on the box. Once any safe deposit box has been emptied and the contents of the box secured by you as personal representative, the box may be closed out. You may also keep renting the box during the estate administration, at the expense of the estate, if the estate comprises valuables (such as expensive jewelry) that should be kept in safekeeping until they can be sold or distributed. If you or some other person is a co-renter on the box and wish to keep the box to be used for non-estate purposes, this may be done (but the responsibility for paying the box rental fee normally shifts solely to the co-renter and this fee should not be paid by the estate).

Notice to Social Security

The personal representative must notify the Social Security Administration of the decedent’s death. This can be done by visiting the decedent’s local Social Security office or by telephone. Sometimes the funeral home will take care of notifying the Social Security Administration for the family, but it is always best to double check. If the decedent continues to receive Social Security checks or direct deposits following death, this means that the Social Security Administration probably has not been notified of the death. If direct deposits are made into the decedent’s bank accounts after the decedent’s death, do not be surprised if those funds are subsequently withdrawn from the decedent’s bank account by the Social Security Administration.

If the personal representative and the decedent did not share the same address, the personal representative should have the decedent’s mail forwarded to him or herself. This may be done in person at any branch of the Post Office by providing them a certified copy of your “letters” which prove that you are the court-appointed personal representative.

Handling the Estate Holder’s Credit Cards

The personal representative should cancel all of the decedent’s credit cards. At the time of canceling each credit card, request that the credit card company send you a final statement of all unpaid charges. Each credit card company owed payment should be added to the list of creditors so proper legal notice may be given to them.

Handling Unnecessary Utilities

If the decedent owned a house the personal representative should cancel any unnecessary utilities such as cable, satellite, and internet service; unless these obligations will be transferred to a person who resides at the decedent’s house. Even if the decedent’s house is vacant, it is usually best to maintain water service and electric/gas service, and any security or alarm system already in place. You may also want to cancel or modify the decedent’s telephone, but this will depend on the particular circumstances of the estate.

If the decedent had any newspaper, magazine, or similar subscriptions, the personal representative must also see that they are cancelled.