While it may be difficult to do, the affairs of those who have passed away must be settled, including caring for outstanding issues related to their estate such as paying the decedent’s debt and legally transferring their debt to others. Under the supervision of the Probate Court, which in New Hampshire is the Probate Division of the Circuit Court, the personal representative is the person responsible for managing the tasks required to settle a decedent’s estate. This person is also called a personal representative or an executor.
Personal Representative Appointment
Before the personal representative or executor is authorized to legally represent the estate, they must petition the court and receive approval. Upon approving the appointment of the personal representative, the court will issue the appointee “letters .” The personal representative uses “letters” to prove their authority. For example, in order to open a bank account in the name of the estate, the bank would require the personal representative to present the “letters.” The personal representative will also be required to pay a filing fee and post a surety bond. RSA §553:13. The amount of the bond depends on the size of the estate.
Duties and Responsibilities of the Personal Representative
Once appointed, the personal representative must settle the estate of the decedent.
Take control of assets. One of the first tasks of the personal representative is to identify estate assets and take control of them. The personal representative has the right to immediate possession of the decedent’s property and is required to keep the property in good repair.
Inventory estate assets. Upon taking control of estate property, the personal representative must also determine its value. Within 90 days of appointment the personal representative is required to file with the Circuit Court an itemized inventory of the estate assets. The inventory must include:
- A description of real estate
- A list of all goods, chattels, stocks, bonds, cemetery plots or burial spaces, and other effects of the deceased
- A list of all notes, with their dates and terms of payment, and the date and amount of each
- A list of all deposits in savings banks, with the name and location of each bank
- A list and description of evidences of debt
Pay estate debts. The next major job of the personal representative is to pay estate debt. When an estate is in the midst of a probate proceeding, creditors are given a timeframe to submit claims to seek payment. In New Hampshire, the clock starts when the personal representative is appointed and ends 6 months after appointment. The personal representative will review each claim for validity. Valid claims will be paid, but only if the estate has enough to assets to do so. RSA §556:2. If there are not sufficient assets to pay all debts, the law provides which bills must be paid first. Some bills will not be paid.
Distribute estate assets. Before distributing assets, the personal representative must get approval from the court to do so. Once the court approves distribution, the personal representative will have the authority to move forward to transfer the property that remains in the estate after debts, taxes, and expenses are paid. The personal representative will transfer the property to the beneficiaries named in the decedent’s will. In the absence of a will, the assets will be distributed based on the law of intestate succession. RSA §561:1
Under the New Hampshire’s rules of intestate succession, surviving spouses, children, and parents are the primarily heirs. How the estate is distributed depends on who survives the decedent. The surviving spouse would inherit the entire estate if the decedent did not have children and was not survived by parents. RSA §561:1
Personal Representative Compensation
Personal representatives are not expected to work for free. They are entitled reasonable compensation. The compensation is based on the nature of the estate and is subject to the approval of the court.