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How to Handle an Estate

If you’ve been either appointed or named the Executor or Personal Representative of a loved one’s estate, there are certain responsibilities and duties that you will be required to carry out in order to make sure his or her estate is handled properly. This article will cover some of the most common duties and obligations of a Personal Representative. The goal here is to help you fulfill your responsibilities in this important role.

Estate TaxesGeneral Duties and Responsibilities

Once you have been appointed as the Executor of your loved one’s estate, you will need to obtain a “short certificate” from the Register of Wills for the county processing your loved one’s estate.

The short certificate is the document that proves you are authorized to carry out your duties as Executor. You will need to provide original copies of the short certificate to each insurance company you are claiming benefits from, and to obtain other legal documents or information related to your loved one’s estate. The Register of Wills will provide you with as many original copies as you request.

As Personal Representative or Executor of an estate, it is your job to locate any of the decedent’s safety deposit boxes and keys.

You should locate all life insurance policies and notify the insurance companys of the death of their policyholder. Provide these companies with a copy of the decedent’s death certificate and your short certificate.

Car insurance and house insurance companies should also be notified of the death as well and policies that the decedent no longer needs .— such as automobile insurance — should be canceled.

If the decedent had a rented home or a leased automobile, consider how soon the lease or rental agreement can be terminated, and take steps to do so. If you are terminating a lease for any type of property, consider the time you will need to gather up the contents of that property so they can be distributed in accordance with the decedent’s will, or, if they died intestate (without a formal will), in accordance with state law.

If the deceased had any investments, pension funds, bank accounts, work-related life insurance and benefits, you will want to locate documents related to these assets and notify the appropriate companies of the death. They will also want an original or copy of the short certificate in most cases.

You should not delay in interviewing and retaining a competent, experienced personal injury attorney if your loved one died as a result of someone else’s negligence or crime. Key witnesses who may be very helpful to your wrongful death claim may not be available if you wait too long. Because witnesses won’t remember things as clearly moths later, their recollection will not be as credible if there are delays in finding them; it’s important you act now.

The Inventory of the Estate

One of your first jobs as a Personal Representative is to locate and take possession of all of the property and assets owned by the deceased.  The value of all of the property has to then be determined. You may need the help of an accountant, attorney, real estate professional, or financial advisor, to help you with this. Once an inventory is completed, it must be filed with the Probate Court.

It may also be wise to hire a probate attorney to help you administer the estate properly and to make sure all the necessary paperwork is filed with the Court. The probate attorney’s fee will generally be paid by the assets of the estate.

Notify Creditors

You will need to take various steps, possibly including a newspaper ad, to notify any creditors of the death of your loved one. Then you will need to make a list of all known debts, and make arrangements to have these debts paid out of the money from the estate.

Estate Taxes

Because the estate tax laws change from year to year, it’s important that once you have determined the total value of the estate, you find out if any estate taxes have to be paid to the federal government and/or your state government.   Your probate attorney and accountant can assist you in making this determination.

Disbursement of Assets

Once all the debts and estate taxes are paid, the Probate Court will then issue an order to have the remaining assets divided up and disbursed to the beneficiaries according to the Last Will and Testament of the deceased. If your loved one died without a will (this is called “intestacy”), then the Probate Court will use the laws of your state to determine the percentage of the assets that each entitled beneficiary will receive.  It is then your duty to make sure those assets are distributed according to the order of the Probate Court.


Because the job of a Personal Representative is important and requires a fair amount of work, it’s strongly recommended that if you are appointed Executor or Personal Representative of a loved one’s estate, seek out the advice of the professionals described above to help you fulfill the important responsibility of properly administering your loved one’s estate.

For nearly 25 years, Jon Ostroff has been representing the estates of over 100 children and adults who have died across Pennsylvania as a result of someone else’s negligence. Jon will spend the time and money it takes to figure out what happened to your loved one. If unable to recover money for your loved one’s estate, Jon will pay these costs.

Jon Ostroff’s ability to find the evidence that wins cases has earned him his distinguished reputation across Pennsylvania as a wrongful death attorney.

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