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How Far Must the Personal Representative of an Estate Go to Find the Deceased Person’s Creditors?

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Even though movies often cut straight from scenes of lawyers reading a will to scenes of the deceased person’s descendants reveling in their new-found fortune, the process is not quite so quick.  Before the beneficiaries of the will can receive the assets that their deceased relative has bequeathed to them, the will must go through a process of probate.  One of the reasons that probate sounds so intimidating is that the process requires the personal representative of the estate (sometimes called the executor of the will, in states other than Florida) to make a serious effort to pay the deceased person’s debts.  Thus, the amount of money that gets passed on to the decedent’s beneficiaries can end up being considerably less than what the decedent had at the time of his or her death.  Even if you, as the personal representative of the estate, had extensive knowledge of the decedent’s finances while he or she was alive, it can still be a challenge to find all the creditors.  How do you strike a balance between ascertaining the creditors and preserving the estate for the beneficiaries?  A probate and estate lawyer can help you sort out the competing demands of administering a will, including seeking out the decedent’s creditors.

What Counts as a Reasonable Search to Find Creditors? 

The potential for accumulating unpaid debts in one’s lifetime is theoretically limitless.  Even highly financially responsible and financially stable people sometimes get surprising bills in the mail for charges they did not know they had incurred or obligations they had not realized were unpaid.  No one expects the personal representative of an estate to spend years chasing leads to track down obscure debts from many years ago.  Rather, the personal representative of the estate should first pay the decedent’s debts known to him or her.  These include the decedent’s last electric bill, phone bill, and other utilities. The personal representative should also review checkbooks and speak to the deceased’s accountant and banker.  After that, the personal representative of the estate is required to publish a notice announcing the person’s death and advising creditors that they must file a claim against the estate in a timely manner.  Those two steps amount to a reasonable attempt to find creditors.  After you have finished paying debts you find during those two steps, you have fulfilled your obligation to seek out creditors.  If creditors come to you later, after the estate has already settled and the heirs have received their inheritance, contact an estate and probate lawyer.

Contact Mark R. Manceri About Probate Law 

An estate and probate lawyer can help walk you through the process of paying the decedent’s debts.  Contact Mark R. Manceri in Pompano Beach, Broward County, Florida to discuss your questions if you have been named as the personal representative of an estate.

Resource:

consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0081-debts-and-deceased-relatives

/common-problems-and-solutions-for-talking-to-your-family-about-your-estate-plan/

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