Once you open a probate estate by filing (and having the court approve) your Petition for Probate, the work to administer the estate begins. The first step is to obtain certified copies of your Letters. The Court issues an order granting your petition for probate, but the order does not allow you to take any action to secure estate assets. For that, you needs Letters Testamentary (or Letters of Administration if there is no Will). Don’t be fooled by the term “Letters,” we are not talking about what you write to your grandmother. Rather, Letters in the probate sense is a court document that the court issues as the order opening your probate is filed. The Letters then gives you the power to do what you need to do as Executor or Administrator.
You then have to gather together all of the estate assets and property and place them into a proper estate account. Eventually, all of the property will need to be inventoried and appraised by a probate referee. You are allowed to appraise the value of cash, but everything else MUST be appraised by your court appointed probate referee.
You also must send creditor’s notice to all known creditors of the estate along with a blank creditor’s claim form to make it as easy as possible for creditor’s to file a claim.
Finally, you have to take care of any real property. That means cleaning it up, moving personal items out, collecting rent (if rented), and preparing it for sale (if the property is to be sold). You can sell real property in probate. If you are given broad general powers, then you can sell real property without court approval. If you are given limited powers, then you have to file a petition with the court every time you wish to sell the real property.
If you do not file to close the estate within twelve months of it being open, then you have to prepare and file a report with the Court (that’s increased to eighteen months if your estate is subject to estate tax). We always try to avoid filing reports, and instead be ready to close the estate prior to twelve months, but that’s not always possible.
Be aware that you must NOT distribute any estate assets to the beneficiaries without prior Court approval. You also cannot pay yourself, nor your attorney until ordered to do so by the Court. Finally, be sure to keep all estate cash in an interest bearing account because you are responsible for making the assets productive while they are under your control.
The estate must remain open at least four months to allow for the creditor’s claim process to be completed. Once all the assets have been dealt with, sold (if necessary), and appraised, then you will be ready to wrap up the estate.