Get Appointed as Administrator
Normally one of the first things that a probate court will do is appoint an administrator over the estate. The estate administrator’s job is to be the point of contact responsible for overseeing the day-to-day probate process, protect the estate assets, and report to the probate court about the estate. Any legal matters regarding the estate are normally addressed to the administrator. Generally, a probate court will appoint the surviving spouse as the administrator if it believes that the she can handle the responsibility. If not, the court will either appoint a surviving relative or a professional administrator to oversee the probate process.
Gather the Estate Assets
Gather all of the assets that will be included in your husband’s estate. Assets that go into the estate include real estate, financial securities and funds owed to the decedent. Property that your husband owned or controlled during his life that is automatically transferred to another party, such as life estates or property he had access to as beneficiary of a trust, are not included in the probate estate. When gathering the estate assets, check to see if you live in one of the 13 community property states. If you do, generally any property acquired during the marriage automatically reverts to you and is not included in the estate.
Pay Outstanding Debts
Pay off your husband's debts using the estate assets. Possible creditors normally must inform the administrator of the debt within a certain amount of time in order to be able to collect. If the estate does not have enough assets to settle all of the debts, the debts are normally required to be paid off in the following order: costs of the estate administration; the funeral expenses; debts and taxes; then all other claims. The administrator is generally not personally responsible for the debts of the decedent. However, if your deceased husband incurred the debt during your marriage, you may still be required to pay.
Once all of the debts have been paid, distribute the remainder of the estate property. Under most state succession laws, the majority of the estate will go to you as the surviving spouse. How much the surviving spouse gets depends on whether the deceased had any surviving children or parents.