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After an individual dies, much of his or her property may have to pass through a series of legal steps before assets pass on to beneficiaries. Probate is the legal term for this process. 

If the deceased had a will, the designated executor, or personal representative, may be responsible for wrapping up affairs of the estate. If there is no estate plan, the court may select an administrator on the deceased’s behalf. 

Executor responsibilities during probate

The first duty of an estate’s personal representative is to file the will with the probate court and notify beneficiaries to the will that the process has begun. After this, the main responsibilities of the executor include: 

  • Making an inventory of the deceased’s estate, including real estate and personal property as well as financial assets like investment, retirement and savings accounts 
  • Identifying and fulfilling the estate’s outstanding financial obligations, which may include final medical bills, funeral costs, outstanding debts and costs related to administration of the estate 
  • Filing final state and federal income tax returns for the deceased, and, in some cases, filing income tax returns for the estate 
  • Distributing remaining assets to beneficiaries 

Avoiding legal issues

From accurately assessing the value of estate assets and closing out debts to transferring property to heirs, even a careful and conscientious executor may feel overwhelmed during the probate process. 

That is especially true if an estate is complex, or if there are disputes among beneficiaries. Executors should know that they may be able to include costs for legal assistance under the estate’s administrative expenses.