The inventory of an estate is signed by the estate's executor, or personal representative. The personal representative is legally bound to preserve the estate's assets for the people who are inheriting the assets, by doing all that he can to ensure that the estate's value does not decrease during probate. Before he can preserve the value of the estate's assets, however, he must know what those assets are and he must know their value, as of the deceased's date of death. In other words, he needs an inventory.
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An inventory is a list of every asset owned by the estate and its corresponding monetary value. The estate's personal representative inventories all the estate assets, assigns a value to each, and signs off on the inventory before submitting it to the probate court. The information important for a proper estate inventory includes a list of all estate assets, the amount or quantity of each asset, and each asset's corresponding monetary value.
Anything owned by the deceased is legally an asset of the estate. Furniture, books, kitchen utensils including small appliances and clothing may be listed separately on the inventory, or categorized as household goods. If the estate owns any antiques, these are usually listed separately. Real estate, automobiles, water craft, art collections, jewelry and investment portfolios must also be included and valued in the inventory. In short, every item owned by the estate must be listed and valued.
The personal representative must assign a value to each item listed in the inventory. Household goods, such as kitchen items, individual pieces of furniture, books and clothing are valued at fair market value. The personal representative may consult thrift stores, newspaper sales ads or consignment sales prices for similar items in similar physical condition to decide on a fair market value for each item. Real estate value should be determined by a professional appraiser, automobiles may be valued according to one of the industry standard manuals, such as the Kelley Blue Book, for a used automobile in similar condition. Antiques, and art and jewelry collections should be valued by a professional valuator or auction house. Investment portfolios and bank accounts should be valued according to their actual market value. The value assigned to each item should be as of the date of the decedent's death.
Any items owned by the deceased jointly with other individuals, such as real estate or bank accounts, should be listed as non-probate property. Ownership of the deceased's share of jointly owned property passes immediately upon the decedent's death to the other joint owners. Thus, while the property should be accounted for on the inventory, it does not constitute a probate asset as the estate retains no percentage of ownership.
Filing with the Court
The personal representative usually inventories estate assets quickly after assuming the role of personal representative. This ensures that no assets disappear or decline in physical condition, and thus value, before the personal representative can identify, value and begin preserving the assets. Some provide a statutory deadline for inventory submission. For example, Maryland requires him to complete the estate inventory and submit it to the court within three months of becoming the personal representative. California allows four months for this. Once the inventory is finished, the personal representative attests that it is true and correct by signing it. He then files inventory with the court.