When a person dies without a will, he or she is said to have died intestate. Their estate will still have to be distributed, even if not in the way they would have wished. This involves going to probate court. Each state provides guidelines on how the assets of people who die intestate should be dealt with.
The process can get complicated depending on the size and complexity of the estate. That’s why it’s imperative to employ the services of probate lawyers who are conversant with probate and estate laws.
Below are the steps to settle an estate without a will:
Get A Copy Of The Deceased’s Death Certificate
Obtaining the death certificate of the deceased will be the first step. You will require at least 10 certified copies of the death certificate because the same will be used at various points when dealing with the estate of the deceased. People in charge of a person’s remains will usually prepare and file the death certificate. Therefore, it can be requested from a mortuary or funeral home.
File A Petition For Probate At The Probate Court
To begin the court process, you’ll file a petition with the probate court in the county where the deceased resided. The process entails filling out and filing some necessary forms together with the deceased’s death certificate in probate court. You’ll have to notify all the identified legal heirs and creditors of the filed petition by serving them with copies.
Attend Probate Hearing
Once the petition is received by the court, a hearing date will be set. All interested parties in the estate, including all heirs and beneficiaries, will be notified of the hearing date. At the hearing, the court will appoint the estate administrator. If the appointment is not challenged, the court will then issue Letters of Administration—the legal document authorizing you to deal with and distribute the estate assets.
Appointment Of Estate Administrator
An estate administrator appointed by the court will be in charge of the deceased’s estate until settlement. An administrator will act just the same as an executor would in an estate where there was a will and will be responsible for calling in all assets, paying estate debts, and thereafter distributing the remaining assets to the beneficiaries.
As the estate administrator, you’ll also be required to locate legal heirs of the deceased, including spouses, children, parents, and other blood relatives.
Gather All The Deceased’s Assets
After you receive the Letters of Administration, you’ll be required to identify, record, and gather all the deceased’s assets subject to probate and submit an inventory to court. You should also notify the public about the deceased’s death so that anyone who has a claim can come forward before estate distribution. The notice should be placed on a platform that can be accessed by many people, like a local newspaper.
Pay The Deceased’s Outstanding Debts And Taxes
A person’s assets, whether little or much, form their estate when they die. Death does not discharge debts; creditors expect to be paid from the estate. The state usually determines the order of priority on how bills in an estate ought to be paid with funeral expenses usually being given priority. Estate administration costs and taxes then follow, respectively. As the estate administrator, after calling in the assets, you’ll be responsible for ensuring that all estate liabilities are taken care of.
Seek An Order For Final Distribution
After all estate liabilities have been settled, you should file a comprehensive account in court and seek an order for final distribution.
Pay Your Counsel And Yourself As Administrator
Being the estate administrator, you’ll be entitled to receive a fee. The amount varies from state to state and is mostly governed by state laws. Some states multiply the estate’s gross value by a certain percentage. While in some, the fee is determined by the probate court. For lawyers’ fees, states usually provide a payment schedule calculated depending on the value of the estate. In both cases, the fee payable can still be discussed and agreed upon with the deceased’s family members.
Distribute Remaining Assets
When all estate liabilities have been settled, it’s time to distribute the remaining estate to the beneficiaries as per the court order for final distribution. The deceased’s spouse is always considered the closest relative in the line of inheritance and is entitled to the lion’s share of the estate, followed by the children. In the event they died before the deceased, then the estate will be distributed to relatives in the order of priority as the law provides. For instance, in the absence of a spouse and children, the parents of the deceased’s will be next in line for inheritance.
Closing The Estate
After the probate is closed and all beneficiaries and heirs have received their share of the estate, they should sign a receipt of distribution which you should file in court. The court will then discharge you from all liability and can only recall you if there are assets not accounted for upon closure.
Settling an estate without a will can sometimes give rise to family conflict, confusion, and resentment, which might result in lengthy and costly litigation. Issues like who becomes the legal guardian of the deceased underage children can become a never-ending argument, or some beneficiaries may also contest their portion of the inheritance received.