One of the most persuasive reasons to execute a Last Will and Testament is to ensure that your assets are distributed according to your wishes after you are gone. Another, equally important, reason to leave behind a Will, however, is to ensure that you choose who will administer your estate. To help convince you why this is important, the Harrison probate attorneys at the Law Offices of Kobrick & Moccia explain who administers an estate if there is no Will.
Over the course of a lifetime, almost everyone acquires assets that become part of their estate at the time of death. Some people amass a huge estate that includes complex and valuable assets while other people own little more than their personal possessions at the time of death. Regardless of the size and value of assets owned by a decedent, those assets must be identified, valued, and passed down to the new owners. That is the primary purpose of the legal process known as probate. Before those assets are passed down, however, there are a number of steps that must occur during the probate process. The law requires someone to be in charge of overseeing the probate of an estate. If a decedent left behind a valid Will, the person appointed to be the Executor in that Will is in charge of administering the estate. If the decedent died intestate, or without a Will, the court must appoint a Administrator to oversee the probate of the estate.
What Are Some of the Steps Involved in Probating an Estate?
The person who is responsible for administering your estate has a number of duties and responsibilities during the probate process. Among the most important steps involved in probating an estate are:
- Identifying and protecting the estate assets. The first thing any Executor/Administrator must do is to locate all relevant estate planning documents which may include a Will, trust agreement, life insurance policies, and/or Letter of Instruction among others. These documents should provide information regarding the estate assets which must all be identified and secured at the beginning of the probate process.
- Litigating any claims. Disputes are far from uncommon during the probate of an estate. If a beneficiary or heir questions the validity of the Will submitted for probate a Will contest might be initiated. The Executor/Administrator is required to defend the Will throughout the ensuing litigation.
- Calculating and paying taxes. Every estate is potentially subject to federal (and sometimes state) gift and estate taxes. The Executor/Administrator is responsible for determining if the estate owes estate taxes and, if it does, the tax must be paid out of estate assets. An error in the calculations used on the estate tax return could be devastating to the overall probate of the estate.
- Distributing estate assets. The Executor/Administrator is responsible for preparing any legal documents necessary to effectuate the transfer of the remaining assets to the intended beneficiaries and/or heirs of the estate.
Who Will Be Appointed As Your Administrator?
When a decedent failed to leave behind instructions, in the form of a Will, regarding who should administer his/her estate, a judge must appoint someone. The judge will look first to a spouse if you were married. If you were not married, other family members will be considered. If no one accepts the appointment, or the court cannot locate any immediate family members, the judge may be forced to appoint a local attorney to administer your estate. By failing to leave behind a Will, you lose the right to choose who will administer your estate. You also leave open the possibility that the court will appoint someone you would never choose as your Administrator. By failing to leave behind even a basic Last Will and Testament, however, you effectively relinquished your right to any input on the matter.
Contact Harrison Probate Attorneys
Please feel free to download our FREE estate planning worksheet. If you have additional questions or concerns about administering an intestate estate, contact the Harrison probate attorneys at the Law Offices of Kobrick & Moccia by calling 800-295-1917 to schedule your appointment.