Probate administration can quickly turn into costly litigation. This is especially true when inadequate administration or a breakdown in communication leads to distrust among beneficiaries and fiduciaries. Many of these cases are nothing more than misunderstandings and should not be litigated.
Administering an estate is an extremely daunting task for anyone, let alone someone dealing with immense grief. Often the Executor/Personal Representative of an estate was a family member or close friend of the decedent. In addition to dealing with the grief of losing a loved one, the Executor/Personal Representative is also responsible for administrating the estate and carrying out the decedent's last wishes.
The Executor/Personal Representative must quickly become familiar with probate laws, court rules and be wary of potential tax issues. Moreover, he or she must interact with beneficiaries, devisees and heirs who are also grieving. Sometimes these people may feel hurt or angry that the decedent did not choose them to administer the estate. In addition to navigating the law, the Executor/Personal Representative often has to play referee among family members and defuse infighting. All too often these responsibilities and pressures are too much for the personal representative causing them to make mistakes or withdraw from the process altogether.
Informal vs. Formal Probate Administration
Informal Probate requires limited court oversight. It is an administrative proceeding that is typically overseen by a Magistrate instead of a Judge. The process can be expedited if there are no objections by interested parties and the will or estate conforms to the probate laws.
Formal Probate matters are typically heard by a Judge and may involve one or more hearings before the court. A formal probate proceeding requires both written notice and publication notice before the allowance of the formal petition.
Personal Representative - is the executor or administrator for the estate of a deceased person. Personal representatives serve as fiduciaries of the beneficiaries of estates and have the duty to act in good faith, with honesty, loyalty, and candor, and in the best interests of the estate's beneficiaries. The law requires personal representatives to follow the terms of the deceased person's will if the individual who died had one. If the deceased person died intestate, the personal representative will serve as the administrator of the intestate estate.
Beneficiary – is someone entitled to receive some type of distribution from a trust, will, beneficiary account, retirement account or life insurance policy.
Devisee – is a beneficiary under a will. A devisee can be anyone that the decedent identified to receive some type of property under the will.
Heir - is typically a child, descendant, or other close relative of the decedent who is legally entitled to inherit some or all of the estate of a decedent who died intestate. The heir receives property according to the intestacy laws of the state in which the property is probated.
Intestate Estate – the estate of someone did not have a will when he or she passed away.