Estate settlement occurs when the court approves the final report from the estate's appointed representative, usually an executor or administrator. The estate settlement process involves payment of the deceased's debts, final tax return fillings and the transfer and sale of assets with property and sale monies going to the deceased's heirs or will beneficiaries. Estate proceedings are a matter of public record, so if you need to know whether an estate was settled, you can find out by viewing the estate's court records. Finding out whether an estate is settled is useful in various situations, especially if you're a family member or will beneficiary who didn't receive your share, or a creditor who never received payment.
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Locate the probate or surrogate court that handled the estate proceedings. The court may be in the county where the deceased resided or where he owned real estate.
Contact the court clerk of each court you locate. Inquire as to the procedure for reviewing estate files. Procedures vary by county. Some courts allow a person to mail in a written request for estate records, while others require an in-person visit. Follow the instructions of the clerk to view the estate records. You'll need to give her information about the deceased, usually the deceased's legal name and the date of death if you have it, so she can locate the estate paperwork.
View the estate file. You need to find the final estate account. The executor or administrator of the estate must file a final account to settle the estate and receive a release from the court. You'll find a final account and release in the files of a settled estate. Write down the name and address of the estate's attorney, as shown on the court files if you don't see a final account or release. Write down the name and address of the executor or estate administrator if the estate did not use an attorney.
Contact the estate's attorney or administrator if you want to inquire about the estate's settlement status. Identify your relationship to the deceased, if any. Give your reason for asking. The attorney or administrator may not respond to you if you don't state why you're interested in the estate.
Tips & Warnings
- Visit the official website of the state's court system to find contact information for county probate and surrogate courts.
- Some courts note if an estate is settled, or closed, on the record viewing system or on the file itself.
- A court fee may apply for copies of estate files ordered over the phone or by mail. Copy and retrieval fees vary by court.
- Don't contact the estate executor or administrator by phone unless you've received a reply allowing you to do so. The executor or administrator is often a person, such as a relative, and not a business. He may not be comfortable discussing the estate with an unknown party over the phone.