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Top 10 Action Items For Personal Representatives of Estates

August 20, 2014

Being selected as the personal representative for an estate is both an honor and a tremendous responsibility. Here are our top 10 action items to help you efficiently and effectively fulfill your role.

1. It’s best to withdraw from the appointment if you are not up for the task.
You may consider advising the individual to choose another responsible relative or, in some cases, a professional representative.

2. Participate in the pre-planning process.
Work with the individual and his or her team of professionals to ensure that all legal documents are current and death wishes are documented. Also, consider planning options to reduce the taxable estate, avoid probate, ensure estate liquidity, and/or ease the estate administration.

3. Identify assets and ownership with the individual’s assistance.
Are there liquid assets to pay estate taxes and expenses? Are beneficiaries named on tax-deferred assets and life insurance policies? If a living trust is in place, have assets been re-titled to the trust, and are you listed as a trustee?

4. Avoid the post-death “treasure hunt” for assets and other relevant estate documents.
Request a current copy of the will and trust agreements, an inventory of assets and liabilities, and the location of supporting documents such as stock certificates, mortgage statements, life insurance policies, safe deposit keys and other pertinent estate items. Start your own file for these documents.

5. Obtain contact information for the individual’s current professionals.
This list should include attorneys, accountants, insurance agents and investment advisors. You may need to confirm that all tax filings are up to date or request previously filed gift returns or other documents.

6. Inquire about documents for asset protection in the event of disability or incapacitation.
Although your role doesn’t start until death, it’s still a good idea to ask. Are you named as the power of attorney? Is a living trust or private disability insurance in place? Is there a joint owner on the checking account, so that bills may continue to be paid with ease?

7. Confirm that funeral wishes are documented, including the service, reception, and burial.
The most important reason for this is to meet the decedent’s wishes. As a trustee, you also want to prevent against beneficiaries questioning how you spent estate assets.

8. Contact your team of professionals soon after death so nothing gets missed.
Timing is important: there are steps to take and deadlines to meet. These may include probate, required tax filings and account transfers. The goal is to satisfy all the required estate steps in order to close the estate in a timely manner.

9. Protect estate assets upon death.
As a personal representative you are responsible for securing assets during the entire estate process. This includes prudent investing, as well as maintaining and preserving real estate and other assets until final distributions are made. This may require delaying payments to certain beneficiaries.

10. Upon death, handle the decedent’s day-to-day activities.
It’s up to you to pay all expenses and outstanding liabilities, including property and business taxes, credit card, mortgage and other debt payments, in addition to depositing income earned after death into an estate checking account.

Doug McDonald, CPA, is AEM’s Professional Services Industry Leader and a seasoned recreational pilot. When he’s not soaring through the skies, he’s helping his clients’ businesses soar to new heights. You can reach Doug at 952.939.3207 or at

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