A personal representative of an estate is an executor, administrator, or anyone who is in charge of the decedent's property. Generally,
an executor (or executrix) is named in a decedent's will to administer the estate and distribute properties as the decedent has directed.
An administrator (or administratrix) is usually appointed by the court if no will exists, if no executor was named in the will, or if the
named executor cannot or will not serve.
In general, an executor and an administrator perform the same duties and have the same responsibilities.
For estate tax purposes, if there is no executor or administrator appointed, qualified, and acting within the United States, the term executor
includes anyone in actual or constructive possession of any property of the decedent. It includes, among others, the decedent's agents and
representatives; safe-deposit companies, warehouse companies, and other custodians of property in this country; brokers holding securities of the
decedent as collateral; and the debtors of the decedent who are in this country.
Because a personal representative for a decedent's estate can be an executor, administrator, or anyone in charge of the decedent's property, the
term personal representative will be used throughout this publication.
The primary duties of a personal representative are to collect all the decedent's assets, pay the creditors, and distribute the remaining assets to
the heirs or other beneficiaries.
The personal representative also must perform the following duties.
- File any income tax return and the estate tax return when due.
- Pay the tax determined up to the date of discharge from duties.
Other duties of the personal representative in federal tax matters are discussed in other sections of this publication. If any beneficiary is a
nonresident alien, see Publication 515,
Withholding of Tax on Nonresident Aliens and Foreign Entities, for information on the personal
representative's duties as a withholding agent.
There is a penalty for failure to file a tax return when due unless the failure is due to reasonable cause. Reliance on an agent (attorney,
accountant, etc.) is not reasonable cause for late filing. It is the personal representative's duty to file the returns for the decedent and the
estate when due.
The first action you should take if you are the personal representative for the decedent is to apply for an employer identification number
(EIN) for the estate. You should apply for this number as soon as possible because you need to enter it on returns, statements, and other
documents that you file concerning the estate. You must also give the number to payers of interest and dividends and other payers who must file a
return concerning the estate. You must apply for the number using Form SS-4, Application for Employer Identification Number.
Generally, it takes about 4 weeks to get your EIN. However, you can apply by phone and get it immediately (you still need Form SS-4). See
the form instructions for how to apply.
Payers of interest and dividends report amounts on Forms 1099 using the identification number of the person to whom the account is payable. After a
decedent's death, the Forms 1099 must reflect the identification number of the estate or beneficiary to whom the amounts are payable. As the personal
representative handling the estate you must furnish this identification number to the payer. For example, if interest is payable to the estate, the
estate's EIN number must be provided to the payer and used to report the interest on Form 1099-INT, Interest Income. If the interest
is payable to a surviving joint owner, the survivor's identification number must be provided to the payer and used to report the interest.
The deceased individual's identifying number must not be used to file an individual tax return after the decedent's final tax return. It also must
not be used to make estimated tax payments for a tax year after the year of death.
If you do not include the EIN on any return, statement, or other document, you are liable for a penalty for each failure, unless you can show
reasonable cause. You are also liable for a penalty if you do not give the EIN to another person, or if you do not include the taxpayer identification
number of another person on a return, statement, or other document.
Notice of fiduciary relationship.
The term fiduciary means any person acting for another person. It applies to persons who have positions of trust on behalf of others. A personal
representative for a decedent's estate is a fiduciary.
If you are appointed to act in any fiduciary capacity for another, you must file a written notice with the IRS stating this. Form 56,
Notice Concerning Fiduciary Relationship, can be used for this purpose. The instructions and other requirements are given on the
back of the form.
Filing the notice.
File the written notice (or Form 56) with the IRS office where the returns are filed for the person (or estate) for whom you are acting. You should
file this notice as soon as all of the necessary information (including the EIN) is available. It notifies the IRS that, as the fiduciary, you are
assuming the powers, rights, duties, and privileges of the decedent, and allows the IRS to mail to you all tax notices concerning the person (or
estate) you represent. The notice remains in effect until you notify the appropriate IRS office that your relationship to the estate has terminated.
When you are relieved of your responsibilities as personal representative, you must advise the IRS office where you filed the written notice (or
Form 56) either that the estate has been terminated or that your successor has been appointed. If the estate is terminated, you must furnish
satisfactory evidence of the termination of the estate. Use Form 56 for the termination notice by completing the appropriate part on the form and
attaching the required evidence. If another has been appointed to succeed you as the personal representative, you should give the name and address of
Request for prompt assessment (charge) of tax.
The IRS ordinarily has 3 years from the date an income tax return is filed, or its due date, whichever is later, to charge any additional tax that
is due. However, as a personal representative you may request a prompt assessment of tax after the return has been filed. This reduces the time for
making the assessment to 18 months from the date the written request for prompt assessment was received. This request can be made for any income tax
return of the decedent and for the income tax return of the decedent's estate. This may permit a quicker settlement of the tax liability of the estate
and an earlier final distribution of the assets to the beneficiaries.
Form 4810, Request for Prompt Assessment Under Internal Revenue Code Section 6501(d), can be used for making this request. It must be
filed separately from any other document. The request should be filed with the IRS office where the return was filed. If Form 4810 is not used, you
must clearly indicate that you are making a request for prompt assessment under section 6501(d) of the Internal Revenue Code. You must identify the
type of tax and the tax period for which the prompt assessment is requested.
As the personal representative for the decedent's estate, you are responsible for any additional taxes that may be due. You can request prompt
assessment of any of the decedent's taxes (other than federal estate taxes) for any years for which the statutory period for assessment is open. This
applies even though the returns were filed before the decedent's death.
Failure to report income.
If you or the decedent failed to report substantial amounts of gross income (more than 25% of the gross income reported on the return) or filed a
false or fraudulent return, your request for prompt assessment will not shorten the period during which the IRS may assess the additional tax.
However, such a request may relieve you of personal liability for the tax if you did not have knowledge of the unpaid tax.
Request for discharge from personal liability for tax.
An executor can make a written request for discharge from personal liability for a decedent's income and gift taxes. The request must be made after
the returns for those taxes are filed. It must clearly indicate that the request is for discharge from personal liability under section 6905 of the
Internal Revenue Code. For this purpose, an executor is an executor or administrator that is appointed, qualified, and acting within the United
Within 9 months after receipt of the request, the IRS will notify the executor of the amount of taxes due. If this amount is paid, the executor
will be discharged from personal liability for any future deficiencies. If the IRS has not notified the executor, he or she will be discharged from
personal liability at the end of the 9-month period.
Even if the executor is discharged from personal liability, the IRS will still be able to assess tax deficiencies against the executor to the
extent that he or she still has any of the decedent's property.
Generally, if a decedent's estate is insufficient to pay all the decedent's debts, the debts due the United States must be paid first. Both the
decedent's federal income tax liabilities at the time of death and the estate's income tax liability are debts due the United States. The personal
representative of an insolvent estate is personally responsible for any tax liability of the decedent or of the estate if he or she had notice of such
tax obligations or had failed to exercise due care in determining if such obligations existed before distribution of the estate's assets and before
being discharged from duties. The extent of such personal responsibility is the amount of any other payments made before paying the debts due the
United States, except where such other debt paid has priority over the debts due the United States. The income tax liabilities need not be formally
assessed for the personal representative to be liable if he or she was aware or should have been aware of their existence.
Fees Received by
All personal representatives must include in their gross income fees paid to them from an estate. If paid to a professional executor or
administrator, self-employment tax also applies to such fees. For a nonprofessional executor or administrator (a person serving in such capacity in an
isolated instance, such as a friend or relative of the decedent), self-employment tax only applies if a trade or business is included in the estate's
assets, the executor actively participates in the business, and the fees are related to operation of the business.