If you recently lost a family member or a loved one you are undoubtedly going through a period of emotional upheaval and profound grief. If you also learned that the decedent appointed you to be the Executor of the estate, or you are planning to volunteer to be the Personal Representative because the decedent died intestate, you are probably feeling overwhelmed and a bit concerned about how you are going to handle the administration of the estate. The good news is that help is available! An experienced North Dakota estate planning attorney can help you with estate administration, allowing you to focus on the emotional and practical ramifications of your loss.
What Is Estate Administration?
When you die, you will leave behind an estate that is composed of all assets you own at the time of death. This may include real and/or personal property as well as both tangible and intangible assets. This is true for everyone, including your recently deceased loved one. Regardless of the size or value of an estate, the assets that make up the estate must eventually be distributed to the intended beneficiaries and/or heirs of the estate. Most people also leave behind debts when they die that may need to be paid out of the estate assets along with state and federal taxes. This is all part of estate administration. The legal process that governs the administration of an estate after the death of an individual is known as “probate.” Unless the estate is especially modest in value, it will be required to go through the probate process in North Dakota.
Executor vs. Personal Representative
Someone must be responsible for overseeing the probate, or administration, of an estate. If the decedent left behind a valid Last Will and Testament the estate is referred to as a “testate” estate whereas if no Will was executed by the decedent prior to death the estate is an “intestate” estate. In a testate estate, the person appointed by the decedent in his/her Will to be the Executor of the estate is the person responsible for overseeing the administration of the estate. In an intestate estate, someone usually volunteers to be the “Personal Representative (PR) of the estate and be responsible for the estate administration.
The Probate Process – Common Steps
While the administration of every estate is unique, there are a number of steps that are common to most estate administrations, including:
- Opening probate – the Executor or PR must petition the appropriate court to open the probate of the estate and to be officially appointed to oversee the administration of the estate.
- Identifying assets – all estate assets must be identified and located by the Executor/PR. An inventory may be required by the court as well.
- Categorizing assets – not all assets go through probate. For probate assets, a date of death value must be obtained which often requires hiring professional appraisers to assist. Non-probate assets bypass the probate process.
- Notifying creditors – known creditors may be notified personally while unknown creditors are notified via publication in a local newspaper.
- Reviewing claims – the Executor/PR must review all claims submitted by creditors and pay approved claims out of estate assets if sufficient assets exist.
- Defending the estate – if a Will contest is filed the Executor must defend the Will submitted for probate.
- Paying taxes – all personal and estate taxes, both state and federal, must be paid before assets can be transferred to beneficiaries/heirs.
- Transferring assets – finally, the Executor/PR must prepare any legal documents necessary to effectuate the legal transfer of the remaining assets to the intended beneficiaries and/or heirs of the estate.
How Can an Estate Planning Attorney Help with Estate Administration?
If you are the Executor or Personal Representative of an estate, it is in your best interest to retain the services of an experienced North Dakota estate planning attorney to help you through the probate of the estate. Estate administration requires a good deal of financial and legal knowledge in order to avoid making a costly mistake, knowledge you may not have. Having an experienced attorney on your side will ensure that the probate process moves along expeditiously and without errors, allowing you to focus on the personal aspects of the decedent’s death.
For more information, please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you have additional questions about estate administration, or would like assistance probating an estate in the State of North Dakota contact the experienced estate planning attorneys at German Law Group by calling 701-738-0060 to schedule an appointment.