Settling a Confusing Estate

by Matthew Derrringer
Although problems can arise in estate administration, help is available.

Although problems can arise in estate administration, help is available.

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If you have been named the executor in a will or appointed as administrator of an intestate estate, when there is no will, it can be daunting to find out how many different and complex tasks you may have to accomplish before you can settle the estate. Although most probate proceedings are relatively straightforward, a variety of problems can plague executors of complicated estates. But even in the most confusing of situations, there will be a path forward.

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Naming the Executor

Probate laws and procedures vary by state, although there is some uniformity across the country. In general, a key component of a person’s will is to name a trusted friend, family member or other individual to serve as the executor of the estate. Or, if a person dies intestate, or without a will, the court will name a personal representative to carry out essentially the same tasks as an executor.

Identify the Problem

When you run into a difficult issue while administrating an estate, first try to determine the exact nature of the problem. For example, one of the tasks an estate executor is required to fulfill is to locate and inventory all of the estate’s assets, including cash and real property wherever it is located. This can be complicated if certain items are hard to find, the estate is so large that the task seems endless, or the value of some assets is uncertain. Problems can also arise due to confusion over the amount of estate or income taxes owed, if any. Additionally, lawsuits may have been filed against the estate or creditors may be looking for payouts from the assets.

Probate Court

Probate court clerks and judges often help guide personal representatives through the maze of estate administration. Laws and court proceedings provide oversight and structure to estate administration. Estates with wills that name a specific executor and estates of decedents who died without leaving a will both go through the probate process. Although probate courts can be helpful in providing direction and guidance, there is always the possibility that complicated problems could arise, such as claims that could leave the estate mired in prolonged litigation.

Getting Assistance

In the worst of situations, when an executor simply cannot deal with the challenges confounding the estate administration process, most states permit the executor to obtain professional assistance. This includes legal professionals, accountants, property appraisers and other specialists, depending on the exact nature of the problem. In most states, compensation for hiring outside professionals will be paid out of the estate’s assets -- the executor is not personally responsible for these costs. Executors may also be compensated for their work in settling estates, especially when the administration is particularly complex.