As much as people don’t enjoy conversations around estate planning – incapacity and death being unsettling topics – after someone has died family members quickly want to understand the financial implications of that person’s passing. In other words, they want to begin estate administration – the transfer of a decedent’s assets to beneficiaries. The primary way they think this is done is by someone being appointed an administrator. This is not always true and sometimes is very wrong.
Probate is the court supervised administration of a deceased person’s assets that are in their name with no beneficiary designation or joint owner. Qualification is the process when someone goes to the clerk of court and gets appointed as administrator of the deceased person’s probate estate.
Once appointed as an administrator there is no way out but through. Administrators must file an inventory and accounting – this is true even if it is later discovered that there are literally no assets to administer. What people don’t realize is that probate is not always necessary. There are statutes that provide for transfer of cash and vehicles outside of probate, even if there is no beneficiary named on an account or vehicle title. Real estate is also readily transferable without becoming appointed as an administrator.
There can also be considerable costs associated with serving as administrator. Would-be administrators must be prepared to personally pay the qualification and court fees. Also, for out-of-state administrators or where someone died without a will the court requires a surety bond (special insurance). Once crossing the hurdle of qualification, the administrator will have filing fees with the Commissioner of Accounts who audits probate estates. Remember this audit process is required even if no money is left by the deceased as a probate estate.
In all my years of practice, the most difficult and intractable cases I have had involved people becoming appointed administrators of probate estates where it was unnecessary. These unfortunate people would have gladly paid a few hundred dollars to avoid the mess created by probate administration. Before you or someone you love forges ahead with appointment as administrator, contact Promise Law to see if that is the right, next step.