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Forensic Genealogists &
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The Essential Duties of an Estate Administrator, and How a Forensic Genealogist Can Help

Estate Administrator shaking hands with client

If you’ve been appointed as the personal representative of an estate, you’ve been given a great deal of responsibility. Correctly consolidating and distributing the assets of the deceased person can be complex. Should a personal representative breach the legal duties they bear and cause the estate to suffer a loss, they may become personally responsible for the loss they caused. It is therefore critical to get things right the first time, including by distributing the proceeds of a will to the correct beneficiary(s) or heirs. Read on to learn about the types of responsibilities held by a personal representative, and contact a forensic genealogist for assistance in correctly distributing the proceeds of an estate.

Personal representatives, also known as executors and administrators, are often appointed by name in the will itself. The will can designate an individual, or a company such as a bank, to serve as the administrator of the estate. Where no will exists, courts will appoint a personal representative to handle the estate’s administration.

One of the first duties of the personal representative is to notify the beneficiaries or any heirs of the administration of the estate. It is at this early stage that administrators will be forced to learn whether all of the proper heirs of the estate can be easily identified, or if more skilled help will be needed to identify and locate all heirs. Where heirs are not listed by name or no will exists, the risks of liability to an administrator for incorrectly distributing the proceeds of an estate are too great to take the search for heirs lightly. It is crucial that the personal representative hire professional and experienced forensic genealogists to conduct the search for beneficiaries according to sound and evidence-backed practices.

Personal representatives have responsibilities in five main categories:

Cataloguing and valuing property: The personal representative must find and identify all property owned by the deceased person, ensure that it is kept safe, and determine how much that property is worth. This often requires the services of a professional appraiser and may require the help of a specialist if the deceased person had any especially valuable or rare collections. A catalog of assets must be provided to the probate court.

Managing and investing assets: Before the estate is fully distributed, personal representatives must manage and invest estate funds. The representative must also see that these items remain properly insured throughout the administration process, either by obtaining insurance (or increasing the amount of coverage, if necessary) or continuing to pay premiums on existing policies.

Filing and paying taxes and debts: The personal representative must determine the existence of debts owed by the deceased person at the time of their death, and either pay those debts or notify the creditors of a delay due to the administration of the estate. The personal representative must also file and pay any necessary taxes, including those which the deceased person failed to pay during their lifetime.

Locating heirs and distributing assets: It is at this point that the correct identification and location of the proper heirs becomes critical. Once the proceeds of an estate are distributed, it becomes difficult or impossible to unwind these payments if made incorrectly.

Closing the estate: Once all debts are paid, taxes filed, and gifts distributed, the estate can be closed and the personal representative discharged.

If you’ve been appointed as an estate administrator, executor, or personal representative of an estate and want knowledgeable and proven assistance in administering the estate, contact a forensic genealogist at Von Langen, LLC for a consultation at 561-748-2936.