How to Settle Your Husband's Estate Without a Will

By John Cromwell

If your husband dies without a will, his estate is "intestate.' That means that a local probate court will oversee the distribution of your husband’s assets. The rules regarding how your husband’s estate will be distributed vary by state. However, there are some steps that most intestate estates must go through regardless of where they are located.

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.

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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.

Distribute Property

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.

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Estate Administrator Duties

References

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Death Without Wills & the Rights of Survivorship for a Property

While a will is one tool used in estate planning, there are other options available to ensure that your property goes to the appropriate beneficiary after your death. One of those alternatives is making your property subject to a right of survivorship. The benefit of the right of survivorship versus using a will is that the beneficiary obtains the property faster. Property and probate law operate under state law, so consider consulting with an attorney licensed to practice in your state if you want to create a right of survivorship or if you wish to determine if a right of survivorship exists on a piece of property.

Who Can Probate a Will in the State of Alabama?

In Alabama, if the deceased named someone in his will to oversee probate, he is referred to as the executor or personal representative; if no one is named in the will and the court must appoint someone, he is called the administrator. Probate is the process of disposing of the testator's property according to the will’s terms. The executor or administrator must also ensure that all of the deceased’s debts and any estate taxes are paid. Anyone in possession of the will can present it for probate after the testator’s death. This person does not necessarily have to be the executor.

When Is an Estate Considered Settled?

When a person dies, his property is gathered into an estate. The estate is formed for the purpose of settling his outstanding liabilities and distributing what remains to his heirs and beneficiaries. The process for distributing a decedent’s estate varies by state. As a result, review the laws of the state where the decedent lived to determine the process related to your specific set of circumstances. Generally, an estate is considered settled when a court declares the estate closed.

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