Serving as the administrator of an estate is more complex than many people anticipate. Whether you’re choosing the administrator you’ll name in your will or have been appointed administrator and are unsure of your responsibilities, it’s important to understand the administrator’s role.
The specific tasks will vary somewhat based on the type of property the deceased owned, the number of beneficiaries, the extent of outstanding debt, the size of the estate and other factors. The core responsibilities begin with gathering information, making notifications and opening the estate and end with distribution of the assets and closing the estate.
Choosing an Administrator
If you’re choosing an administrator for your estate, you’ll want to choose someone you trust. However, choosing the right administrator requires considering more than personal relationships. You should be aware of the duties your administrator will be expected to carry out, and choose someone who is well equipped to manage those responsibilities with the help of an experienced estate administration attorney.
Preliminary Duties of the Administrator
Shortly after the deceased’s passing, the administrator is charged with gathering necessary documentation, contacting potential beneficiaries, and opening the estate. This process includes:
- Locating the will
- Obtaining a death certificate
- Filing papers with the probate court
- Identifying next of kin and possible heirs
- Notifying all interested parties such as beneficiaries
- Determining whether the deceased had life insurance or is entitled to death benefits from any other source
- Claiming any available benefits
- Transferring bank accounts to the estate
- Identifying and gathering assets
- Determining any outstanding debts
Management of the Estate
Once the estate is open, assets have been identified and beneficiaries have been notified, the administrator’s role shifts to management and accounting duties. The administrator is required to responsibly manage the estate for the benefit of the heirs, and may be personally liable if he or she fails in that duty.
These duties include:
- Creating an inventory of assets
- Determining the value of assets, including arranging for appraisal if necessary
- Maintaining assets as needed, including making mortgage and insurance payments, providing for necessary maintenance or storage, and otherwise protecting the value of assets
- Hiring a manager to keep the deceased’s business running, or manage the liquidation of the business
- Assessing validity of claims against the estate and settling debts
- Keeping a detailed record of estate accounts and transactions
- Calculating taxes due, filing returns and making payments
- If necessary, liquidating estate assets to pay expenses of administration, taxes, and other costs
Distribution of Assets
The final stage of probate administration is to distribute the assets that remain after settlement of debts and payment of costs of administration. Like many aspects of estate administration, distribution of assets may be more complicated than anticipated. For example, the deceased’s will may simply have devised property by percentages, but the administrator would be responsible for determining which property to distribute to whom, or for deciding which assets to sell in order to make cash bequests or make distributions in appropriate shares. This process may include:
- Determining who is entitled to distributions and in what proportion
- Making specifically-listed distributions when possible after paying debts and costs
- Selling assets as needed to make distributions under the will possible
- Preparing an accounting for the probate court
These responsibilities can be daunting to someone inexperienced with estate administration, and it is easy for an inexperienced administrator to overlook an important responsibility or be unaware of a specific required format or process.
An Experienced Estate Administration Attorney Can Help
If you’ve been appointed administrator of a New Jersey estate and you are unfamiliar with the required procedures, forms, and general responsibilities, help is available. An experienced estate law firm can guide you through the estate administration process to ensure that you are able to fulfill your duties. You should contact an attorney as soon as possible after the deceased passes away, so you have the benefit of knowledgeable guidance from the beginning and can be certain that you are aware of important responsibilities and deadlines.