“Estate Administration: Probating Wills and Trying to Keep the Peace”
Whenever someone dies, someone else has to settle the estate. If no one steps in to do so, the estate is unofficially divided and in many cases plundered.
The administration of an estate is a type of obstacle course given to many (if not most) people once in a lifetime, and sometimes more than once. This obstacle course will require you to run, walk, climb, jump, swim, and crawl through something called the probate process. During this time, the heirs and creditors might get restless and upset, and you will have a target on your back!
There are two types of estate administration: those that have wills and those that don’t. If there is a will for the estate, you as personal representative (a.k.a. executor or executrix) will need to file a petition to probate (“prove”) the will. You will simultaneously file a petition for letters testamentary, that is, you will ask the court to grant you authority as personal representative in order to speak for the deceased, gather assets, pay the creditors (after waiting six months), and distribute whatever is left over. To avoid a court hearing over these two issues, you will need to obtain consents for the probating of the will and for your formal appointment as personal representative from the other heirs.
If there is no will, we call it “intestate succession,” and the state’s probate laws, not the recollections and preferences of the heirs, determine who gets what. In this case, you would petition the probate court for letters of administration (that is, authority to speak for the deceased, gather assets, pay the bills, and divide whatever is left to the heirs according the state’s formula. Your job as personal representative becomes harder because you will:
- Need to be bonded (in case you run off to Brazil with the assets);
- Need to report inventory and expenditures to the probate court each year; and
- Have to disappoint the heirs by dividing everything up according to the state’s calculus rather than what makes sense to the family.
Regardless of whether you are executor under a will or administrator of an intestate estate, you will have to make decisions, and you might be sued or have to sue someone. Thus, estate administration is not for the impatient and faint of heart.
We are here to help you. Sometimes, all you need is a consultation, and you can handle the estate from there. In other cases, you will need an initial consultation and additional advice in order to complete your tasks.
Our goal is to help you make sure you don’t have to undo or redo anything you start in the probate court. By being deliberate and diplomatic, we can often avoid troubles with heirs, creditors, and the court. Call us at 404-239-2661.
We are glad to answer your questions and to help you get started with estate administration. Please call 404-239-2661.