Probate and Trust Administration


Your loved one just passed, and you are the only relative in the area. You think to yourself, “What do I do now?”

Attend to the needs of the family first.

Arranging the funeral or service should be a priority. While family members may be tempted to take property after the funeral, the loss of valuable items can complicate the process, whether it be a probate or trust administration. The lack of funds for the service and disposition of the loved one’s remains is nearly always an issue. Life insurance cannot generally be accessed without a death certificate, which often takes weeks to obtain. However, the law favors reimbursing the party who advanced funeral expenses.

Look for and gather estate documents.

As difficult as it is, it is important to gather everything that looks like a trust, will, deed, power of attorney or advance health care directive. They may be in a file folder marked “Important—Do Not Destroy,” but it’s more likely that you will need to look through desks, file cabinets and closets. During your search, look also for life insurance policies, bank statements, stock certificates and pink slips for autos, boats and other vehicles. Be careful. Be methodical. I have had clients who found valuable stock certificates in extremely odd places like taped under drawers and in envelopes combined with long-ago-paid bills.

Get some solid advice.

We have advised many surviving relatives on the course they can or must take based on the documentation or lack of instruments found. Generally, if the decedent (the person who passed away) had no will and owned less than $150,000, then we can often help with the distribution of decedent’s assets through simple legal procedures that can be handled in-house.

If the decedent left real property, probate might well be required.

If the decedent had a will or had no will but owned real property, you are probably looking at a formal probate. The probate process is lengthy, time-consuming, involves statutory fees (both for the representative and the attorney and possibly extraordinary fees) and is court-supervised. We have assisted hundreds of clients with simple and complicated probate proceedings over our law firm’s 40-year history. We have handled will contests and extremely complicated probate estates–one case took more than 12 years to successfully close.

If the decedent had a properly funded trust, administration may be much simpler and less costly.

If the decedent had a trust, we can help. The task of administering a trust is generally much simpler and cheaper than a probate proceeding. The trust will typically describe who is to represent the trust, his or her powers and the persons to whom the decedent’s property is to be given. The trust, deeds and related instruments (like car pink slips) will permit us to determine which of the decedent’s assets are in the trust. This analysis is what attorney’s refer to as determining the extent to which the trust is “funded.” This inquiry is extremely important. Assets in the trust are subject to the control of the trustee. Assets not titled in the name of the trust may in some instances be brought into the trust and then under the control of the trust’s trustee. Assets outside of the trust may or may not be dealt with through simple non-probate transfers or a formal probate depending on the total of the gross value of those outside assets.

In cases where the trust is fully funded, trust administration is normally straight forward. Trust administration means the process of gathering the trust assets, paying the decedent’s debts and distributing the assets to the trust beneficiaries (those persons named or identified by the trust terms). As attorney’s fees are negotiable for trust administration, the cost tends to be much less than the fees to transfer the same value of property through a probate. While notices require some time, with an attorney’s help, property can be gathered and distributed privately, quickly and without any court supervision.

If a loved one passes away, we can help, whether you find a trust or no testamentary documents at all. We have assisted clients with probates and trust administrations both difficult and less complicated.  We are confident that we can help you..

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