Securing the Assets

The personal representative must first locate, identify, and take possession of all of the deceased’s assets that fall under estate administration, called “probate assets.” Probate assets are any type of property owned by the deceased. Assets that are excluded from probate, called “non-probate assets,” are the following:
  1. jointly owned bank or brokerage accounts that pass automatically by operation of law to the surviving co-owner;
  2. life insurance policies payable upon the death of the deceased to named beneficiaries, rather than to the deceased’s estate;
  3. pension benefits or other types of deferred compensation or retirement accounts payable to named beneficiaries, often the surviving spouse, rather than to the deceased’s estate.
While duties regarding non-probate assets are limited, the personal representative will likely need to obtain documentation about the asset for tax purposes. The personal representative may also need to facilitate receipt of the asset by the designated beneficiary or co-owner. The personal representative is responsible for securing, or “marshalling,” probate assets. At times, this duty may simply mean securing the premises where the property is located. More is often required, however, including securing title certificates for vehicles, ensuring receipt of property tax bills and utility bills, and maintaining appropriate insurance on estate assets. Financial investments such as stocks, bonds, and accounts should, in most cases, be transferred into an estate bank or brokerage account titled in the name of the Personal Representative as executor or administrator of the deceased’s estate. The presence of business interests, whether active or passive, heightens the responsibilities and potential liabilities of a personal representative, making the advice and guidance of an experienced estate lawyer even more necessary. Closely held business interests or partnership interests require special attention to insure continuity of management of the business.