Probate and Estate Planning

THE INS AND OUT OF ADMINISTERING AN ESTATE

The term “Estate” confuses many people, especially after the death of a loved one that leaves personal possessions to close friends and family members. For Scott Kemper, the passing of his father introduced him to the legal world of estate planning.

“I had no idea what the legal process was that dealt with handling my father’s properly and other things he owned. The legal process definitely requires the help of an attorney that understands probate law.”

Scott and two partners own a regional chain of restaurants. The passing of his father made Scott realize he needs to decide how he wants his possessions (restaurants included) administered after his death.

An Overview of Estate Administration

An estate comprises all of the possessions owned by a decedent. Common possessions include money, bonds, stocks, and real estate. The administration of an estate describes the process of managing the possessions left behind by a decedent. Estate administration also includes the payment of debt and taxes, as well as the managing the distribution of any property held by the deceased. A legally drafted will defines the heirs eligible for receiving estate possessions. However, each state has laws on the book that determines who receives estate possessions in cases where the decedent did not draft a will.

The Process Can Be Complex

Every state has probate laws the dictate the terms of estate administration. In many cases, estate administration involves more than one state. More than one state involved in the administration of an estate can create significant legal roadblocks that delay the resolution of a will. However, recent court rulings have mandated that the state where a decedent lived at the time of death is the state where probate laws dictate estate administration. This trend has special relevance for Scott Kemper, whose regional restaurant chain operates in three states. Real estate law also has an influence on determining estate administration, which means real estate owned in a different state might fall under another state’s estate administration laws.

The Role of an Executor

An executor has the responsibility of collecting a decedent’s property, as well as ensuring decedent assets pay off debts and taxes. Estate executors are required under law to perform their duties with “diligence” and in “good faith.” A will usually designates who fills the role of an executor, but if a will does not make an executor designation, then a probate court appoints someone to fulfill the legal obligations of an executor. State laws prohibit executors from receiving proceeds from the sale of estate property

Who is on the Hook for Personal Debt?

While many people wonder about their probate rights in the administration of an estate, state laws dictate that creditors move to the front of the line to receive payments for debt owed by a decedent. After the passing of a loved one, the first order of estate business involves settling debts by generating income from estate assets. In most cases, decedents defray debt owed through disbursements from bank accounts. If a beneficiary designated in a will is responsible for part or most of a decedent’s debt, he or she is on the legal hook for paying off the debt. While credit card debt falls solely on an account holder, property acquired during a marriage typically places the burden of debt on the surviving spouse.

Scott Kemper did not deal with the administration of his father’s alone. He enlisted the help of a licensed probate attorney that specializes in estate administration cases. If a decedent places you in legal charge of the administration of an estate, you need to contact an experienced estate planning lawyer. If you have questions about estate administration, call a licensed attorney today to schedule a free initial consultation.

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