When someone dies, settling the estate can be a daunting task. The person appointed as Personal Representative (“executor”) often has no experience with the probate process and must learn “on the job.” The tasks involved include collecting and maintaining the assets of the estate, paying debts and taxes, and distributing the assets. A general outline of these tasks appears below.
Consulting a lawyer who practices in this area can be extremely helpful. Your attorney can take on most of the responsibilities of the Personal Representative or simply offer general guidance on how to begin the process.
Duties of the Personal Representative
- Gather and maintain the estate assets.
- Pay the claims of any creditors, as well as taxes owed by the decedent or the estate.
- Distribute the remaining assets according to the Will, or if there is no Will, then according to the laws of intestacy.
- Arrange for the funeral.
- If there is an unoccupied residence, make sure that it and any valuables in or around it are secure.
- Locate the Will and file all required documents with the Register of Wills.
- Notify banks, employers, insurance companies, stock brokers, and others of the death, and begin identifying the decedent’s assets and liabilities.
- As necessary, arrange for the decedent’s mail to be forwarded.
- Estimate the amount of cash needed to pay creditor claims and taxes, and as needed, arrange for any assets to be sold for distribution.
- Obtain a federal tax ID number and open a checking account for the estate.
- Prepare an estate inventory and file it with the Register of Wills.
- Prepare and file an inventory listing the estate assets and their date-of-death value.
- Prepare and file an information report.
- If necessary, prepare and file Maryland and federal estate tax return.
- Prepare and file an accounting showing all estate activity.
- Prepare and file the decedent’s final Maryland and federal and income tax returns, which are due on April 15 of the year after the date of death.
- During the administration of an estate, federal and state income tax returns must be filed for the income and expenses of the estate.
The estate assets are usually distributed after the death taxes have been paid, although some distributions may be made earlier in the process. Inheritance taxes, which are distinct from estate taxes, are payable by certain beneficiaries at the time of distribution, unless the Will provides otherwise.