Decedent estates are administered through probate courts by executors or personal representatives. An executor is required to gather estate property, pay debts and distribute assets to the decedent's heirs. Executors also must list the estate's assets for the court and heirs. This is accomplished by completing a court-approved inventory form. When the estate closes, the executor gives a final accounting showing debts and property distributions. States have individual laws governing the specifics for filing estate inventories.
An executor should gather proof of ownership of a decedent's assets to ensure an inventory's accuracy. For example, he should obtain the decedent's vehicle titles, property deeds and financial statements. He should also list and take control of the estate's personal property, such as family heirlooms. Partial ownership rights must also be inventoried. For example, if two people equally own a car together, and one dies, his executor must inventory his half interest.
Determine Property Value
An executor must know the estate property value to complete an inventory. This requires that an executor check state equalized values for real estate, get current account balances and obtain appraisals for things such as vehicles and jewelry. It generally does not matter if property values decline or increase during the estate's administration. It is valuation at the time of the decedent's death that is used for inventory.
Examine Asset Titles
An executor must examine how a decedent's property is titled to determine if it should be inventoried. Property held in trust or joint with survivorship rights generally should not be inventoried. For example, a house held by a decedent as joint tenants with another party should not be included. Also, if a decedent left property to a person through a trust or as a named beneficiary on a financial account, it should not be inventoried as estate property.
Give Proper Notification
An executor needs to obtain the names and addresses of a decedent's heirs. He also needs to obtain a court-approved inventory form from the court in which the estate is being probated. Once an executor completes an inventory, he must file it with the court and serve copies on all heirs at their proper addresses. An executor must also keep abreast of any newly discovered estate assets. Inventories must be updated, filed and served if new estate property is discovered.
Maggie Lourdes is a full-time attorney in southeast Michigan. She teaches law at Cleary University in Ann Arbor and online for National University in San Diego. Her writing has been featured in "Realtor Magazine," the N.Y. State Bar's "Health Law Journal," "Oakland County Legal News," "Michigan Probate & Estate Planning Journal," "Eye Spy Magazine" and "Surplus Today" magazine.