How to Appoint an Executor of an Estate Without a Will

By John Cromwell

An estate that does not have a will is considered intestate. One of the probate court’s duties with regard to intestate estates is to appoint an administrator. Like an executor, the administrator manages the day-to-day business of settling the estate. This includes paying off the decedent’s debts with the estate’s assets and distributing what property remains to the decedent’s heirs. Probate is subject to state law, so the process of appointing an administrator will vary, depending on where the decedent lived.

An estate that does not have a will is considered intestate. One of the probate court’s duties with regard to intestate estates is to appoint an administrator. Like an executor, the administrator manages the day-to-day business of settling the estate. This includes paying off the decedent’s debts with the estate’s assets and distributing what property remains to the decedent’s heirs. Probate is subject to state law, so the process of appointing an administrator will vary, depending on where the decedent lived.

Step 1

Initiate probate proceedings by filing the appropriate documents with the clerk of the court of the county where the decedent lived. The documents you generally need to file are the decedent’s original death certificate, an estimate of the gross value of the estate, and the names and addresses of the decedent’s heirs. You may also be required to pay a fee and complete a written application for probate proceedings.

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Step 2

Convince all other possible candidates to forfeit their rights to be appointed as the estate administrator. The other possible candidates are the decedent's heirs. The heirs are the decedent's closest living family members. A probate court will generally select an administrator from the candidates based on the following order of preference: decedent’s spouse or partner of a civil union; spouse’s child; grandchild; parent; brother or sister; niece or nephew. If no family member wants to be the administrator, a creditor or other interested party may apply. Have every potential member who does not want to be administrator sign a letter which states their desire to be not chosen.

Step 3

Attend the probate hearing and state your desire to become the administrator to the overseeing probate court. Present the letters from the other administrator candidates stating their desire to not serve at this time. Answer any question the judge asks you. Generally, if every candidate that has priority over you to be an administrator forfeits that privilege, the court will appoint you administrator. Please note that you may be required to say or sign an oath.

Step 4

Apply for a probate bond. Once you are appointed as an administrator, most courts will require that you obtain a probate bond. A probate bond, or fiduciary bond, is a type of insurance policy that an administrator gets when he is overseeing a probate estate. The bond is meant to ensure that the administrator performs his responsibilities properly and will compensate any affected parties if the administrator fails in his duties.

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When Is an Estate Considered Settled?

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