When you lose a loved one, navigating the funeral and final arrangements can cause you great stress. You might also have to resolve family conflicts and handle numerous financial matters of the deceased. Juggling all of these issues would be difficult on a good day, but you are having to face them with experiencing grief at your loss. At Thienel Law, in addition to writing wills, trusts, and other estate planning documents, I can also take care of estate administration through the probate courts. Estate or probate administration is the organization and management a person’s financial matters after they die.
What Probate Administration Involves
The process has many steps that can feel like a full-time job if you are trying to handle them yourself. If you are not an estate or probate lawyer, you will also have to educate yourself on all the steps you must complete. If you choose to hire us to administer your loved one’s estate, here are some of the tasks we will accomplish during the probate or estate administration:
- Open an action with the probate court. This first step can be necessary if the decedent had a will, had a trust with a “pour-over” will, or had no will. The court will oversee the process to verify that we follow state law and the local rules. The judge will either accept as valid or reject the will. The judge will also appoint someone to serve as the executor of the will or the administrator of the estate. The court will issue an order that empowers the appointed person to handle the estate. We then take care of the probate administration for the executor or administrator.
- Marshal the assets. We will ascertain what bank and investment accounts the decedent had, as well as sources of income such as Social Security retirement or disability income, paycheck, royalties, rental property, and any other streams of income. We will gather information on the decedent’s real and personal property and life insurance policies.
- Give proper notices. Many different entities must get notice when a person dies. Creditors, potential heirs, banks, brokerage firms, employers, the IRS and state department of revenue, the department of motor vehicles, the Social Security Administration, and life insurance companies are some examples of the parties we will notify.
- Pay the estate’s bills. In addition to any final medical bills and the funeral and burial costs, we will evaluate any other financial responsibilities of the decedent and pay the valid debts out of the estate assets.
- File the tax returns. We will prepare and file the income tax return of the decedent and the tax return of the estate. It is often necessary to file more than one return for the decedent and the estate, particularly if a person dies in one year and the estate is closed out during another year.
- File the required forms with the court, such as listings of assets and creditors, as well as the proposed distribution. All along the way, the court will mandate that we file forms, listings, and inventories so that the judge can determine that we are on track with getting the estate tasks completed.
- Distribute the assets. After the court approves of the proposed distribution, we will distribute the assets of your loved one to individuals, charities, and other appropriate parties.
- Close the estate. Once the judge signs off that we have done everything correctly, we will wrap up the estate so you can put this chapter behind you and go about rebuilding your life.
Some family members can be difficult when it comes to money or control, and they might make your life unpleasant if you are trying to deal directly with them. As the lawyer for the estate, Thienel Law can address those chores and give you the opportunity to focus on getting through this emotional and challenging time. If someone was at fault in your loved one’s final illness or injury that resulted in his or her death, we can bring a claim against that person or company for compensation for the wrongful death.
Estate Administration with a Trust
Even if your loved one had a trust, there is usually a will that serves as a safety net for all assets that are not titled in the name of the trust. These “pour-over” wills make sure that nothing slips through the cracks, so that your loved one’s heirs get all the property they are supposed to receive. Assets typically covered by a pour-over will include:
- The money in your loved one’s checking account
- His last paycheck
- Smaller items of personal property that do not have title documents
- Inheritance from another person
- Compensation we might recover for the estate in a wrongful death claim
- Accounts the decedent did not get around to retitling in the name of the estate
Estate Administration with a Will
Whether it is a pour-over will or a standard will, your loved one’s will must go through the probate courts. Some estates can have a quick, simplified administration with little court supervision, depending on the size and complexity of the estate.
Estate Administration with No Will or Trust (Intestacy)
If your loved one died without a valid will, we can still help. In fact, in this situation, the estate needs experienced legal advice just as much as with a trust or will. We will have to distribute the assets according to state law, called the laws of intestacy. These laws often lead to what some might consider unfair results, particularly if the persons who receive your loved one’s assets through intestacy were not on good or close terms with the decedent.
Regardless of what promises your loved one might have made to people during her lifetime, we will have to follow state law if she did not memorialize those statements in a valid will or trust. Family members may contest the distribution, but we can handle that situation for you.
Experience You Can Trust
Estate administration attorney Steve Thienel understands what you and your family are going through when you suffer the loss of a loved one. He will take on the probate administration for you with the utmost of professionalism and compassion.