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An Administrator must be appointed to oversee the estate of a person who has died. Designation can occur by naming the individual in a legal Will or trust. If no estate planning occurs prior to death, everything the decedent owns is transferred to probate. During this process, a judge will appoint an Administrator. This could be a relative, friend or outsider such as an attorney or professional estate planner.

The Administrator generally works with a probate attorney to ensure all documents are properly filed. When the decedent's estate is held in probate, the estate executor must present a copy of the death certificate to the court and legally record the death. Trusts do not pass through probate and follow a different protocol. Trusts are generally handled by the estate planning service that established the trust.

Duties of the probate administrator are varied. Some Administrators will be involved with making funeral arrangements, while others will not. When a relative is appointed as the estate executor, the decedent usually discusses their final wishes with them. The executor is advised of preferred funeral arrangements such as burial or cremation, type of casket, burial clothing and music arrangements.

The probate executor should be advised of the location of life insurance policies and other important documents. The Administrator needs to have easy access to these documents. Experts suggest keeping insurance policies, real estate deeds, automobile titles, banking and financial records in a home or bank safe.

If kept at a bank, the Administrator should be aware of the bank location as well as the location of the safe deposit box key. Otherwise, the Administrator will have to provide legal documents to the bank, which could slow down the probate process. This is of particular importance if life insurance policies are kept at a bank. Life insurance policies must be provided to the funeral home. If the Administrator does not have access to these documents, burial could be postponed until documents can be presented or verified.

The Administrator is responsible for taking inventory of the decedent's assets. An appraisal of the estate must be obtained and provided to the court. Estate assets cannot be distributed to named beneficiaries until the probate process is completed. It is not uncommon for probate to take several months to complete.

If heirs or beneficiaries contest the Will, probate can drag on for years. Anyone who contests a Will is responsible for legal fees. The estate must obtain legal representation to defend the estate. Oftentimes, contesting the Will depletes the estate's financial resources, leaving nothing for intended heirs.

Administrators receive compensation for their services. Estate administration fees are regulated by each individual state's probate laws. Some allow Administrators to charge an hourly rate. Other states pay a flat rate or percentage of the estate value.

If an Administrator is unwilling or unable to perform duties they can petition the court to be relieved of the responsibilities or a probate lawyer can execute documents releasing them as the estate executor.

Estate planning experts recommend designating two Administrators within their Will. Should the first named executor step down, the second executor can quickly take over the duties.

Learn more about probate administration in our estate planning article library. Here you will discover ways to avoid probate, establish irrevocable trusts, how to hire a probate attorney and end-of-life planning.

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Published on April 30, 2009 at 02:02 AM

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