If you’ve become a personal representative in the probate process, you now have several responsibilities to carry out. For the assets in question to be properly distributed to the decedent’s beneficiaries, you’ll need to gather several documents. These documents will move the probate process along to eventually reach closure. 

Here, we’ll review the documents that you need as an assigned personal representative in a probate case. 

Before Probate Begins

Before the probate process starts, you’ll need to get the decedent’s estate plan and other essential papers. The estate plan should include:

  • The last will and testament or trust
  • Durable power of attorney
  • Funeral, burial, cremation, or memorial instructions
  • Letter of intent
  • Beneficiary designations
  • Healthcare power of attorney
  • Guardianship designations

The decedent may not have completed all or any of these documents, otherwise the probate process may not be necessary at all. Regardless, gather any estate planning documents that are available. 

Other important documents to gather before the probate process include:

  • Bank statements
  • Life insurance policies
  • Corporate documents
  • Stock and bond certificates
  • Real estate deeds
  • Car and boat titles

Beginning The Probate Process

Court Documents

To start the legal probate process, you’ll need to present the court with multiple documents to open the case. Note that probate documents will vary among probate courts, so you may be subject to different requirements. But, these are the basic documents asked for by most courts to open a probate case.

Application/Petition 

Your probate application (or petition, as it’s sometimes called) is your written request to become the personal representative in a probate case. You’ll file this application in the county that the deceased resided in at the time of his or her death. 

A probate application includes various information including date of death, named beneficiaries, names of living family members, etc. Courts often provide blank probate documents, with which you can simply fill in the required information. Otherwise, you or your probate attorney will need to create a petition from square one.

Death Certificate

You’ll also need to provide a death certificate to begin the probate process. A death certificate is a government-issued document that officially states the cause, time, and location of death of the decedent. 

Original Copy of The Last Will and Testament

If available, you’ll be required to supply the court with the original copy of the decedent’s will. You may have already submitted this document to the court. 

Appointment as Personal Representative

Before you can officially become the personal representative in a probate case, you’ll likely need to attend a court hearing. At this hearing, people are given the opportunity to voice objections to you becoming the personal representative. So, you must provide proper legal notice to all beneficiaries named in the decedent’s will, as well as legal heirs, prior to this hearing. 

Upon the approval of your request, the probate court will release documents that give you legal permission to manage the decedent’s estate. These documents may be referred to as Letters of Testamentary, Letters of Authority, or, if the decedent didn’t create a will, Letters of Administration. 

During Probate

Once the probate case has been opened, you as the personal representative will need to gather, complete, and/or release a range of documentation, including:

Proof of Will Validity

In a probate case with an official will from the decedent, the will must be proven to be valid. For this, you’ll need statements from one or multiple witnesses. Statements can be provided as a:

  • Sworn statement signed by the witness
  • Court testimony from the witness
  • Self-proving affidavit

Notice to Creditors

You’ll need to send an official notice to creditors and specify the deadline for claims to be made. 

Inventory of Estate Assets

An inventory of estate assets is required by the court in a probate case. You may also need to get certain assets appraised. 

Documents Involved in Estate Management

As you manage the estate as personal representative in a probate case, you’ll need to do the following:

  • Contact the IRS to obtain an employer identification number for the estate.
  • Prepare to file income tax returns, a federal estate tax return, and a state estate tax return, if needed
  • If legally required in your state, inform the state health/welfare department of the decedent’s passing.

Closing The Probate Process

To officially close the probate process after the end of the creditor claim period, you’ll need to mail, file, or obtain a few final documents:

  • Send official notice of the upcoming final hearing to beneficiaries and heirs.
  • File proof that you notified beneficiaries and heirs of the hearing. 
  • Obtain official court permission to distribute assets. 
  • Obtain and file receipts from asset recipients. 
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