In probate law, the terms executor, administrator and personal representative are often used interchangeably. Administrators settle the estate of a deceased person, known as a decedent, and they apply for the position. Although court fees are involved, administrators are often compensated for their duties from the assets of the estate.
Representative Named in a Will
If an administrator is named in the decedent’s will, she is often called a personal representative. Although the decedent’s wishes are clear, the probate court may still require a formal appointment to the position. This is accomplished by filing forms for appointment, paying the probate court filing fee, applying for letters of authority and sometimes fulfilling a surety bond requirement. Bond is a type of insurance that protects the decedent’s estate from loss by accidental or deliberate mishandling by the personal representative. The court usually honors the decedent’s wishes to waive bond for his representative as long as the wording is present and the intent is clear in his will.
Administrator Not Named
Dying intestate, which is without a will, leaves the position of administrator unfilled. In some cases, any interested person can apply for appointment as administrator. In others, heirs in the decedent’s immediate family are the court’s first choice. Family members may be required to formally give up the right to administer the estate before a person outside the family can step in. Certain people, such as minors, convicted felons and mentally incapacitated persons, are typically barred from applying. Some states prohibit administrators who live in a different state from the decedent’s last permanent residence. The forms for appointment, fee structure and bond requirements are largely the same as those for a personal representative named in a will. There may be additional form requirements for an unrelated person, which would also require additional filing fees. An administrator who was not named in a will may require court supervision throughout the estate settlement.
Satisfaction of Duties
Applying for appointment is the beginning of the administrator’s duties and those duties do not automatically cease. She must also petition the court or file the appropriate forms for release from duty once the estate is settled. Before release, the administrator must provide the court with proof of the decedent’s asset inventory, debts paid, gift and inheritance distribution, and the appropriate federal, state and local taxes filed. When the court reviews and accepts the accounting, the administrator is then released.
Removal From Appointment
The administrator of an estate has a fiduciary duty to manage the decedent’s affairs to the best of her ability. Failure to inventory the estate assets, repay debts, keep accurate accounts or fulfill any other duty can lead to removal from appointment. If the administrator is suspected of mismanaging the estate, nearly any interested party can file a complaint with the probate court. The court has the right to investigate, request an accounting from the administrator and determine whether the complaint is valid. If an administrator is removed, a replacement is appointed to finish settling the estate.