The first step to preparing a strong estate administration case is hiring an experienced estate lawyer. Most people are at least somewhat familiar with the will and probate process of what happens to an individual’s property once they pass away.
Estate administration is a specific and important part of the will probate process. It is important for an individual to be familiar with the estate administration process so they can be ready to discuss their wishes with their attorney.
Estate administration is the legal process of maintaining and/or distributing an individual’s assets, such as real and/or personal property, after they pass away. The entirety of an individual’s property at the time of their passing is called their estate.
In most cases, the estate administration process follows the directions provided in the will of the decedent, or individual who passed away. An individual who writes a will, the decedent, is also known as the testator.
If an individual did not have a will in place when they passed away, their estate will be administered according to the laws of the state in which they reside. Estate administration laws vary by state so it is extremely important to have an attorney helping with the preparations.
In some cases, an individual may not have a large estate and may only have one child. In simple cases, the state estate administration process will mostly likely follow the decedent’s wishes by passing their estate on to their only heir.
However, it is extremely important to discuss local laws with an attorney. In the large majority of cases, having a will is the best and only way to ensure an individual’s estate is administered as they wish following their passing. An attorney can draft a legally valid will that will include all necessary language to meet the individual’s wishes.
It is also important for an individual to understand the duties of an estate administrator before they decide who to name in their will. In most cases, the executor named in the will opens the decedent’s estate.
The executor is an individual who is named by the decedent, typically in their will document. If the will does not name an executor, the court may select one on the decedent’s behalf. It is also important to note that an interested individual can apply to be an executor by filing an application with the probate court to administer the estate.
The majority of duties of the executor will be financial. The typical duties of an executor may include, but are not limited to:
- Interacting with creditors;
- Defending the estate against lawsuits;
- Managing the assets of the estate;
- Identifying the beneficiaries named in the will; and
- Ensuring that the beneficiaries receive their inheritance.
The executor’s first step is to pay any debts and taxes owed to creditors and/or the government from the assets of the estate. This typically must be completed prior to the beneficiaries receiving any of their distributions.
Once an executor and/or administrator is appointed by the court as a representative of the decedent’s estate, the probate process can formally begin. The individual is then responsible for administering the estate and providing an account to the court of the estate administration.
Typically, estate administration involves settling outstanding debts of the estate, distributing the remaining property to the named beneficiaries, and other important tasks. When an individual is deciding who to name as their estate administrator, it is important to remember that the job may require complex tasks, depending on the debts and assets of the estate.
An individual may wish to discuss with their attorney the prospective executors and/or estate administrators they may choose from in order to determine who will be the best fit. The individual should be organized and reliable, as the beneficiaries rely on the individual to properly administer the estate so they can receive their inheritance.
Estate administration is no small task and the testator should confirm with the named administrator that they want the job. It is important to remember that the executor can be changed at any time.