When a person passes away, that person's property becomes known as an estate. An estate includes all property the person accumulated during his or her life, both personal property and real estate. The purpose of a will is to determine how that property will be distributed. However, there almost always must be a person placed in charge of administration.
Generally, a person who takes a role in the administration of an estate is called an executor or personal representative. This person may be named personal representative in the will or may be picked by the court.
Personal representatives generate lists of the decedent's property so that when it comes time to distribute it there is an inventory of what the decedent owned. They also use property from the estate to satisfy the debts of the decedent and pay off the loans the decedent may have had to any creditors. This process can easily become complicated. For instance, a large estate may include property in different states, requiring knowledge of the law of multiple states. A smaller estate can create challenges as well, for instance, when a decedent's estate is insufficient to pay off all creditors. Lawyers who practice estate administration law can provide guidance in these specific instances.
Once the inventory is made and the creditors are paid the personal representative may begin distributing the decedent's property. Depending upon the status of the decedent's financial situation the personal representative may have to manage the estate's tax filing and attend to other important responsibilities not discussed in this post.