What Happens if No One Moves to Settle an Estate?

By River Braun, J.D.

What Happens if No One Moves to Settle an Estate?

By River Braun, J.D.

If no one moves to open or settle an estate, all assets in the estate could be lost, instead of being distributed to loved ones or other beneficiaries.

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Probate is not an automatic process. When a loved one dies, a family member or other interested party must petition the probate court to open an estate. Opening the estate typically involves filing the person's will or applying for an intestate proceeding if the person did not have a will.

Probate Estate Proceedings

Probate is the process of finalizing a person's affairs once he or she dies. This process identifies heirs, pays final debts, and distributes property. If there is a will, the property is distributed according to its terms. If the person dies without a will, the state's intestate laws dictate who receives the person's property. In some cases, this can mean that your assets go to people you might not be fond of.

Opening an estate allows the administrator to pay and resolve debts owed by the deceased person efficiently. Most states require creditors to file claims with the state within a certain number of days. General unsecured creditors who fail to file a claim lose their rights to collect any debts. The administrator of the estate can also object to any claims that are filed improperly or without proof. The debt may be denied if the creditor does not respond to the objection and provide evidence.

Opening an estate is also necessary to transfer title to some assets. Personal property may be distributed without an estate. However, titles to vehicles, property, and other assets must be signed over to an heir and recorded with the appropriate agencies. Failing to transfer title to assets could result in their loss. Regarding real estate, failing to open an estate and transfer title to the property could result in a problem with the title that prevents it from being sold.

No Heirs or Few Assets

If a person dies without any heirs, a creditor or other interested party may petition the court to open an estate. Whatever assets remain after the decedent's debts are paid would be subject to state laws. Laws vary, but many states provide that the assets of an estate with no heirs go to the state.

In some cases, a person dies with very few assets to probate. Many states have a streamlined process for handling small estates. You can petition the probate court for a small estate process. This is usually much quicker and less costly than a formal probate. Most states set a dollar value for determining whether an estate qualifies for the small estate process. For example, in California, an estate worth less than $150,000 qualifies as a small estate.

It is typically best for an heir to file for probate and settle the estate. You can avoid the risk of losing assets and dealing with future problems by settling a person's affairs through the probate process. If you need help executing an estate, consider recruiting the help of an online service provider.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.