When a person dies, the distribution of assets happens according to their will or estate plan. Sometimes this distribution runs into conflicts and disagreements amongst family members and creditors.
When disagreements occur, a case is filed with a local court system to review the conflicts. At the start of 2021, the South Carolina State Court Administration office reported that there were over 50,000 probate cases in the statewide court system.
Probate administration means distributing these possessions consistent with an existing will. If you were recently appointed as a will’s executor, read more here on the process.
Probate Administration Defined
Probate administration means managing someone’s personal property after they die. When someone creates their will, the legal process will validate their last wishes after their death. This process also helps execute their instructions and distribute their assets.
When someone dies without a will in place, the local probate court decides on how to allocate the remaining property.
Probate Administration Terms
Probate administration involves terminology that can appear overwhelming when you’re already handling a great load of personal grief. Some probate terms you’ll need to learn include:
Decedent is a legal term used in estate planning and probate matters. This term refers to the deceased person whose estate is subject to probate proceedings.
Personal Representative or Executor
This is the person responsible for executing the final instructions contained within the will. This role is also called a personal representative.
Letters of Testamentary
These documents come from the local probate court to authorize the executor to begin executing the will.
Notice to Creditors and Notice for Probate
These are written notices sent to any interested party in the estate in question. Executors send these notices to creditors and identified heirs.
Informal Probate Procedures
Those states that adopt a Uniform Probate Code don’t conduct probate court hearings. This code applies whether the estate is small or large.
This system also applies if the deceased left no will. If someone contests a will, they can’t use this informal system.
Steps to Navigating the Probate System
Your case is determined by your own state’s laws. But most probate cases will go through this process.
Executors will file a petition with the probate court where the deceased lived. Executors must “prove” a will. They can’t distribute any estate assets until they complete this step.
When the probate court approves the will and appoints the administrator, they should notify interested creditors or other parties. “Interested parties” refers to those specified in the will, as well as other relatives. Probate law refers to these people as the “next of kin.”
An administrator can post a notice in their newspaper if an interested party’s address can’t be found. Interested parties can include:
- Relative(s) who might inherit an estate in the absence of a will
- Creditors that the executor learns about after processing the decedent’s financial papers
Probate administration also includes calculating the estate’s total value at the time of death. Executors calculate these assets themselves or consult a professional appraiser. Executors might also consult a broker to calculate the value of personal investments (i.e., stocks and bonds) at the time of death as well.
Executors send inventory lists to the estate’s heirs as well as the probate court. An itemized asset list can help demonstrate that the estate was evenly distributed amongst the heirs and creditors.
“Asset distribution” doesn’t only apply to making sure beneficiaries receive their inheritance. Distributing assets also include paying out the estate’s outstanding taxes or debts. Asset distribution also includes closing any of the decedent’s existing bank or retirement accounts.
Distributing assets also includes following the laws to leave money designated for minors. A minor can’t legally inherit funds directly. The executor creates a trust to hold the money until the minor is an adult and manages that trust until the minor grows up.
Close the Estate
The last step in probate administration is to close the estate. The executor files a petition to disband the estate and closes the case. This petition is filed once all the assets have been sold, discarded, or distributed and the executor’s and necessary court fees are paid.
What Is Probate Court?
Probate court is the legal forum when conflicts arise with probate administration. Probate judges can review a case if major disagreements come up. Here are some examples of when a probate judge can intervene.
When a will is uncontested that means all involved parties agree that it’s valid. If someone disagrees with a will or that it contains errors, the case is submitted to the court. That’s when a judge will decide if these concerns are accurate
Creditors to an estate must claim outstanding debt within certain deadlines. If an executor denies a creditor’s claim, a judge will rule on the matter
Sometimes executors need to sell estate assets, just to settle outstanding creditor debt claims. If they disagree with those creditor claims, executors can ask a judge to rule on these matters as well
Beneficiaries may disagree with the way the executor is performing their duties. These beneficiaries can bring their concerns to a judge to review
What Is a Probate Lawyer?
One of the main players in probate administration is the probate lawyer. A probate lawyer can file petitions to appoint an executor and report to the court what the executor completed during his/her administration period. Probate attorneys receive creditor’s claims and send notices to heirs and beneficiaries that the case is opened or closed.
They also handle all required procedures in the courts. For example, they may file a will or contest who becomes the executor. They can handle creditors’ claims and gives notice to creditors, and heirs, beneficiaries, and other people who should receive notice of probate.
Next Steps in Probate Administration
If you are an estate’s executor your first step is to file a petition with the probate court where the deceased lived. You can’t distribute the estate’s assets until you finish this step. The local court will then decide if the will is valid.
Prepare your notices to beneficiaries. Review all creditors' claims filed against the estate. Itemize the value of the estate and then distribute the assets according to your local court laws.
If you encounter problems along the way with probate administration, don’t hesitate to give us a call. The De Bruin Law Firm is ready to help you with your probate responsibilities.