This is the first in a three-part series on estate administration.
Be sure to read Part 2 for even more insight.
Families that are grieving the recent loss of a loved one must nonetheless make sure that their loved one’s property is distributed according to his or her last wishes. Many people are unfamiliar with what’s involved in administering an estate and the details of transferring ownership of houses, cars, bank accounts, and other property to the proper recipients. The three ways to transfer property after death are through a trust, through a will, or if neither of these was created by the decedent, through state law. In all cases, a trustee, executor, or personal representative is responsible for administering the estate. People chosen for those positions owe a fiduciary duty to the estate and its beneficiaries. This makes them legally obligated to act in the best interest of the estate and its beneficiaries and to avoid conflicts of interest. If you have been appointed to administer an estate as trustee, executor, or personal representative, a little guidance as to what’s expected of you can be helpful.
If your loved one set up a trust, you will be able to avoid probate court, which will save the effort, cost, and time involved in wending your way through the court system. The distribution of the decedent’s assets is guided by the decedent’s wishes as expressed in the trust documents. The trustee is responsible for assembling a master list of assets, paying the final expenses of the estate, allocating properties to the beneficiaries named in the trust, and keeping detailed records of all transactions. This job can seem overwhelming. However, hiring an experienced attorney or administrator to assist the trustee can go a long way toward making the experience easier for everyone.
In our next segment in this series, we will address estate administration issues specific to wills.