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After the court determines which assets are non-probate assets, (depending on state laws) the estate is typically administered in one of three ways:
•By Affidavit (Summary Administration): If the total value of the probate assets in an estate is less than your state law's specified amount (typically between $25,000 and $30,000), an heir may be able to fill out an affidavit for administering the estate. The person holding the assets would then release them to the heir without further action.
•Informal: Informal administration means the estate is not court-supervised. Normally, attorneys have limited roles in these proceedings. How much the attorney does in these proceedings depends on how much help you need.
•Supervised (Formal): A supervised (or formal) administration is needed when there is a dispute among the parties who have an interest in the estate. In this situation, the court has to settle the dispute and attorneys are likely to be involved the entire time.
Laws vary from state to state, and how estates are administered can differ greatly. The above-described are only general scenarios of typical estate administration. Check with your probate lawyer for more information.
Estate administration starts by filing a number of forms with the appropriate district court. The forms are available from Bradford Publishing or you an get them from your probate attorney's office. While the forms are not very complicated, there are a number of traps for the unwary and it is normally a good idea to get an attorney's help.
In an informal administration, once the estate is up and running, the personal representative can go ahead and pay the taxes and debts. Then, he or she distributes the probate assets either according to the instructions in the will or under the laws of intestacy if the decedent died without a will. At the end of the informal administration proceeding, an estate may be closed by filing with the court a form that states the personal representative has paid all debts and taxes and distributed the remaining property to those entitled to it.
Estate administration can take as little as six months for simple estates or up to several years, particularly if there are disputes involved. The typical amount of time estate administration takes is 7 to 12 months.
This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified probate lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local probate attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.