Duties of the Personal Representative
A Personal Representative is under a duty to settle and distribute the estate of the decedent in accordance with the terms of any probated and effective Will and the South Carolina Probate Code, as expeditiously and efficiently as is consistent with the best interests of the estate. The Personal Representative shall use the authority conferred upon him by the Code, the terms of the Will, if any, and any order in proceedings to which he is a party for the best interests of successors to the estate.
Asset Control and Safeguarding Duties
One of the first and most important duties of the Personal Representative is to gain control of the decedent’s assets as soon as possible to prevent theft and vandalism. If there was a residence that is now unoccupied, locks should be changed and insurance policies should be reviewed to determine if amounts and coverages are adequate. The safety and security of household goods and personal effects should also receive consideration. If appropriate, the US Post Office should be notified to forward mail to the Personal Representative. To accomplish part of this task with internet assistance, go to www.usps.gov/moversnet/coa.html and fill out the change of address form, print it and deliver it to the nearest post office.
Locating Assets of the Decedent
Another important duty of the Personal Representative is to locate and identify anything the decedent owned that had value. This information will be placed on the Inventory and Appraisement (FORM 350 PC).
The following list includes some of the more common places and documents that may help the Personal Representative locate assets of the deceased:
Income Tax Returns
A review of the decedent’s federal and state income tax returns for several years prior to death may disclose sources of income.
- Bank Statements
A review of bank statements, canceled checks and deposit slips may also disclose income, the source of which may be an estate asset. Canceled checks for the payment of insurance premiums may lead to an insurance policy. Canceled checks may also indicate the existence of other property of which you were unaware.
- Public Records
- A search of public records may disclose property or other assets held by the decedent. Similar searches of real and personal property tax records may disclose assets on which property taxes have been paid.
- Fire and Casualty Insurance Policies
- A review of the decedent’s fire and casualty insurance policies for a schedule of personal effects may also be helpful.
- Bureau of Public Debt – Bonds
- The Bureau of Public Debt suggests sending a letter of inquiry to it concerning whether or not a decedent owned any United States Government Savings Bonds. The Bureau’s internet site also has a lot of helpful information www.publicdebt.treas.gov/
- Decedent’s Brokers
- If the decedent was known to have invested in securities, a letter of inquiry by the Personal Representative to the decedent’s broker and other possible or likely brokers inquiring about brokerage accounts may disclose additional assets.
- Banks and Credit Unions
- The Personal Representative should also write to local banks and credit unions in the city and county where the decedent lived and in other likely areas, inquiring about accounts and safe deposit boxes.
- Decedent’s Employer
- A letter from the Personal Representative to the decedent’s employer, inquiring about payments or benefits due to the decedent, may also disclose other assets.
- Credit Life Insurance
- For certain kinds of creditors, it is possible that the decedent may have credit life insurance. A letter from the Personal Representative to such creditors inquiring about the possible existence of such insurance may reveal coverage.
- Decedent’s Organizations
- If the decedent was a member of a trade association, a professional association, or other organization, he may have been covered under group life or accident insurance and may have other membership benefits that the Personal Representative should seek to obtain.
- Veterans Benefits (If Applicable)
- If the decedent was a veteran, veteran’s benefits of various kinds may be available. The Personal Representative should inquire about the possibility of such benefits at the nearest office of the Veterans Administration. For information about veterans benefits go to Lexington County Veterans Affairs website at http://www.lex-co.sc.gov/departments/DeptRZ/va/Pages/index.aspx, or go to the Department of Veterans Affairs web site at www.va.gov/. Deceased veterans may also be entitled to a U.S. Flag for burial purposes and a headstone or grave marker. For additional information go to http://www.cem.va.gov.
- Beneficiary of Estate
- If the decedent was or may have been a beneficiary of another estate, the records of such prior estates should be reviewed in the appropriate Probate Court to determine what assets the decedent received as a beneficiary. One way to determine if the decedent was a beneficiary of an estate is to look at the derivation clause on the deed to the real estate to see if the property came from an estate.
- Social Security Benefits
- A Personal Representative is no longer qualified to obtain Social Security death benefits of the decedent. If the decedent was covered by Social Security, left no eligible widow, and the expenses of his last illness and funeral were paid by an entitled survivor (i.e. a survivor entitled to benefits of the decedent while he was living), such survivor, under some circumstances, may be entitled to lump sum death benefits up to a maximum of $255.00. For additional information go to https://www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/deathbenefits.htm