When a person's estate is being administered in probate, the process can be quite lengthy. Depending on the size of the decedent's estate and other factors, estate administration can last from several months to several years. The reason for the lengthy duration of the process is that many different things must be taken care of during probate administration. Many of these things are the responsibility of an estate administrator. For this reason, anyone asked to serve as the administrator of another's estate should understand what duties and obligations the role entails.
One of the first things an estate administrator is required to do is search for any potential creditors through a careful review of the decedent's personal papers and records. An administrator must also search for existing debts by reviewing any recurring payments made by the decedent and reviewing his or her checkbook records. In continuing to locate and identify any and all financial obligations, the administrator must also contact all of the companies connected with credit cards in the decedent's possession at the time of death, as well as all those individuals or agencies who provided any type of medical care, treatment or assistance to the decedent.
Aside from efforts to locate and identify existing debts and creditors, the administrator has the general duty of administering the estate and distributing assets or bequests to heirs or other beneficiaries. The process of administering the estate generally refers to performing those actions which are necessary to close out the financial affairs of the decedent: collecting and managing assets and satisfying financial obligations by paying debts and taxes, which often includes filing a final tax return.
The distribution of assets occurs only after all debts and expenses have been paid from the estate. However, because the process of estate administration can be quite lengthy, in some cases beneficiaries are able to receive part of the distributions or bequests to which they are entitled before the final closing of the estate.
Source: Kenneth A. Vercammen, "Administrator of a Probate Estate: Duties and Responsibilities," American Bar Association Law Trends & News Practice Area Newsletter, 2008