Understanding the Role of An Executor or Administrator. A Checklist of Responsibilities to Follow

Written by New Jersey Estate Administration and Probate Lawyer Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq.

j0407473Here is an Easy to Follow Checklist of Responsibilities for an Executor or Administrator to Follow When Handling an Estate:

When a Will is probated, all beneficiaries named in the Will and next of kin must be notified by the executor in writing that the Will has been probated.  The Executor is legally obligated to diligently research and find the whereabouts of all property owned by the deceased at death and the whereabouts of all beneficiaries under the Last Will.

The Executor must also open an estate checking account or other depository location for estate monies and assets.   An Application for a Federal Tax I.D. number for the Estate and other formalities required under the New Jersey Probate Code should be diligently followed by the executor/administrator as part of his or her statutory obligations.

Checklist of Duties of the Executor or Administrator 

Additional Required Duties of the Executor or Administrator

There are a lot of tasks facing the newly appointed executor or estate administrator.  That’s why I’ve created this brief checklist for you. Not everything is listed here but you can refer to the prior page “Checklist of Things to do When a Person Dies” for even more information you need to fulfill your responsibilities (Click Here)

  1. Obtain information about all outstanding bills, debts and legal obligations of the deceased. (NOTE: With proper advice, it is possible for the Executor or Administrator to request an Order to Limit Creditors issued by the Surrogate to protect against undiscovered obligations.)  There are many statutory liens and other potential liabilities that must be researched and satisfied otherwise the estate representative (Executor, Administrator, Personal Representative) can be held personally liable if unpaid.  This is a significant legal risk that must be understood by the estate representative.  That’s why an experienced probate attorney is so helpful during the process.
  2. Organize and pay all uncontested bills and resolve all issues regarding questionable bills, debts and/or legal obligations.   Establish the value of assets and estate property as of the date of death. Both the Federal Government and the state of New Jersey require that the valuation of assets be as of the date of death or sometime immediately thereafter, known as an alternate valuation date.
  3. Pay all financial obligations of the estate including executor’s fees, accountant’s fees, counsel fees. (NOTE: An Executor/Administrator is entitled by law to a fee or commission their services.)
  4. Apply for a New Jersey Tax Waiver(s).  A tax waiver is a document issued by the State of New Jersey which releases the property from any tax claim by the State.  In order to acquire a tax waiver, all death and inheritance taxes due to the State must be paid. If no taxes are due, a form must be filed to demonstrate to the New Jersey Transfer Inheritance Tax Bureau that the estate tax is exempt.  Upon evidence that the estate is exempt from taxes and/or payment of any taxes due, the State will issue a tax waiver. You can then present the waiver to banks, brokerage firms, etc. Upon receipt, the tax waiver must also be presented to the county clerk in the county where the real estate is located. Once filed, the real estate is released from the state tax lien.
  5. File the appropriate NJ estate, inheritance, and income tax returns.  There are statutory time limits for these filings to avoid interest and penalties to the estate and beneficiaries. Generally, they are 9 months from the date of death for a Federal Estate Tax Return and for a NJ Inheritance Tax Return.
  6. When all obligations of the estate are satisfied, the executor should disburse all the inheritance(s) to beneficiaries.  Beforehand the executor should have each beneficiary execute a Refunding Bond and Release for the amount of the inheritance received. Failure to obtain this document subjects the executor to personal liability to future claims by creditors against the Estate. Each Refunding Bond(s) and Release(s) must then be filed with the County Surrogate’s Office.
  7. Initiate the transfer of property out of the deceased’s name and into the beneficiary’s name. This is known as transferring “title” or simply “change of ownership”. If property of the decedent is located outside of New Jersey, additional proceedings are probably necessary (Often referred to as ancillary probate), which means probating the will of the decedent in a state outside of NJ in order to legally transfer ownership of the property to the legal beneficiaries.  See our page on ancillary probate and our video on this subject which can be found on this site.

To learn more about tax waivers, see the following page entitled, “Transferring Assets to Beneficiaries During Probate”.

Fred Niemann, NJ Estate Administration Lawyer

Fred Niemann, NJ Estate Administration Lawyer

In order to protect and ensure that all functions of the executor/administrator are performed properly, it is wise to consult with Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. who is an estate administration and probate attorney in New Jersey.  He can be reached toll-free at

(855) 376-5291 or by email at fniemann@hnlawfirm.com.


Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. has working relationships with many New Jersey County Surrogate offices.