When someone passes away, what they leave behind is called their estate. Estate administration is the process of distributing their assets among the heirs. If the decedent had an estate plan and will, the administration process may be smooth and uncomplicated. However, a large estate with no will or other papers may be more difficult for an administrator to settle. Let’s look at exactly what estate administration is and how it works.

How is an Administrator Chosen? 

If the decedent left a will, it would generally name an executor. The court will allow the executor to administer the estate unless they are unqualified. In that case, the court may appoint a different administrator. If you are interested in the position or close to the deceased, you may want to take the necessary steps to help the court choose the administrator quickly.

If you are concerned that others who may become administrators may not be qualified or may try to steal or use fraudulent means to take more assets as an heir, now would be an excellent time to hire an estate administration attorney. 

Gather the Necessary Documents

Find the Will

Your first step is finding the Will. Look in places that the decedent would have considered safe. Examples of places to look include:

  • Safes
  • Safe deposit boxes
  • Locked desk drawers
  • File cabinets
  • Stashed away with important documents
  • Attorney Office
  • Clerk of court

If you can’t find the will, you can contact the clerk of court in the county where the deceased has previously lived to see if they may possess a copy. 

Apply for the Death Certificate

You will need formal proof of death for many reasons during the administrative process, including:

  • Paying creditors and closing accounts
  • Memorializing social media accounts
  • Getting into email accounts or other online service accounts
  • Closing memberships
  • Notifying life insurance companies and retirement accounts
  • Notifying Social Security and the state’s DMV of death
  • Filing income tax returns
  • Proof of death for children custody or guardianship matters

Locate and Identify Assets

You can go ahead and locate what you believe to be the decedent’s assets, but you may not have complete access unless the court appoints you as the administrator. Often, banks or other businesses may withhold sensitive information unless you have authority. 

Contact the Clerk of Court

If you would like to administer a decedent’s estate, contact the Clerk of Court in the North Carolina county where the decedent lived before death. If the deceased did not live in NC but owned property here, contact the county clerk where the property or assets are. Make sure to ask which documents you must complete from North Carolina judicial forms. Bring the necessary documents, including:

  • Last Will and Testament  (if there is one)
  • Certified death certificate
  • Application and preliminary inventory of the decedent’s property (You will need information about the deceased’s assets and heirs)
  • $120 filing fee

If You Are Named Executor or Administrator of the Estate

First, if you are from out of state, the court may require you to pay a bond to protect assets for creditors and heirs. Next, you will work through the long and arduous process of settling the estate. As the administrator, you are responsible for inventorying the estate for the court, paying creditors and taxes, distributing inheritances, filing the decedent’s last income tax return, selling any homes or land, rehoming any pets closing the estate. 

It is often advisable to hire an attorney experienced in estate administration to execute your duties as an executor carefully. Some large estates may have multiple heirs, trusts, accounts, and creditors. Therefore, it can be challenging to do this job as just one person. Often, settling an estate is a full-time job. For this reason, some estates pay a percentage of the total estate assets to the executor. 

When Another is Named Administrator

In some cases, even if you do the work to set yourself up as an administrator, someone else vies for the position and receives the authority to settle the estate. If the person has ulterior motives and chooses to keep estate monies for themselves that belong to someone else, you have recourse. 

Beneficiaries under a last will and testament have rights and remedies under the law. An executor has a fiduciary duty to comply with the terms of the will.

We Can Help

If you find yourself administering an estate with difficult heirs or squabbling family, find the help you need to keep your peace of mind. Between complicated legal contracts and filing income taxes, settling an estate is no small matter. Our estate administration attorneys at Hopler, Wilms, and Hanna want to make the process smooth for you and your loved ones. Contact us today to find out how we can help.

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