When someone dies, their property and debts are referred to as their “probate estate.” The process for handling someone’s affairs after death is called “probate administration.” The local probate judge appoints a person to serve as personal representative of the estate. If the deceased left a Will, the personal representative is called an Executor, and if they died without a Will the personal representative is called an Administrator.

The job of the personal representative is important but straightforward. After appointment by the court, they are to identify and gather all of the assets owned by the deceased at the time of death, identify and pay appropriate bills and claims against the estate, then distribute all remaining assets according to the will or the state’s laws of inheritance.  The process of probate administration takes about six months, and sometimes administration can be expedited or handled informally.

There are state law provisions that govern the process, including what property is included in the estate, what bills or claims are valid, how and when they can be paid and assets distributed, plus various tax and other issues. Getting help from an experienced attorney is highly encouraged if you are named as executor, and often if you are a beneficiary of the estate.