Probating an estate requires that a person be appointed to conduct the administration of the estate. If there is a will, this person is usually named in the will and is called an executor. If there is no will or no person is named in the will, this person is appointed by the probate court and is called an administrator. The executor or administrator may be an individual, a bank or a trust company.
The executor or administrator manages the following tasks:
- Caring for the decedent's property;
- Receiving payments due the estate, including interest, dividends and other income;
- Collecting debts, claims and notes due the decedent;
- Determining the names, ages, addresses and degree of relationship of all heirs;
- Determining the names, ages and addresses of all beneficiaries, if there is a will;
- Investigating the validity of all claims against the estate and paying all outstanding obligations;
- Planning for all relevant estate and income tax returns when required and making the required payments;
- Carrying out the instructions of the probate court pertaining to the estate and distributing the assets of the estate to the heirs.
The probate court judge and support staff supervise the work of the executor or administrator. This work may require the preparation and filing of legal documents, providing of notices, attendance at court hearings, securing of an estate asset appraisal, filing of an asset inventory, completion of final income tax returns and possibly gift and estate tax returns, an accounting of funds, final transfer of all assets to beneficiaries, termination of the probate proceeding and discharge of the executor or administrator by the probate court. Because of the complexity of these procedures, it is wise to get an attorney's assistance.
If the total value of all property in the decedent's individual name is $35,000 or less, the estate can be relieved from some of these administrative requirements. Where the decedent's spouse is entitled to receive all of the estate's assets, the amount that can be relieved from formal administration is increased to $100,000.