Your will has an important function beyond providing instructions for the distribution of your property. It also names the person who will serve as the executor your estate. The executor has the job of paying your final bills, and distributing any remaining assets.
When someone dies without a will, it’s called dying “intestate.” In these situations, no one may have legal authority to close the deceased’s estate. Probate court can step in to select someone to perform these duties or a loved-one can volunteer to fill the vacancy. This court-appointed representative is known as an administrator. The duties performed by an administrator are essentially the same as an executor.
These basic steps will show you how to file for executor of an estate without a will:
1. Determine Your Priority for Appointment
Probate rules are established by your state and include identifying who can serve as an administrator and the priority of appointment. A surviving spouse usually is given first choice at filling this role. If they decline, the deceased’s children are next in line. When there is no spouse or children, a family members may be selected. If more than one person with priority wants to serve as administrator, and the heirs can't agree, then the court will choose.
Many states have laws prohibiting certain classes of people from serving as an administrator / executor. In Texas, for example, a person who is a non-resident can’t be appointed. Neither can someone found guilty of a felony, even if it occurred 30 years prior. In some states, when no family member has come forward to administer the estate, then a creditor of the deceased may serve as administrator.
2. Receive Written Waivers From Other Candidates
You need to receive a written waiver from other candidates for administrator that have higher priority. For example, if you are the brother of the deceased, you may need to get a written waiver from the deceased’s spouse and children before you can be appointed administrator.
3. Contact Court in the County Where Deceased Resided
In most states, probate will occur in the county where the deceased had residence. You need to contact that court to understand their filing requirements and timelines. Frequently you will need to file a Petition for Probate along with the Notice of Petition to Administer Estate.
4. File the Petition for Administration
The Petition will require you to supply a certified copy of the decedent’s death certificate, an estimate of the gross value of the estate, and the names and addresses of the decedent’s heirs. You will pay a fee to petition for administration.
5. Attend the Probate Hearing
Many states do not require a formal hearing unless there is a contest to select the administrator, or the administrator in not next of kin. Administrators and executors are commonly given an oath recognizing their fiduciary duties to the estate and the court.
6. Secure a Probate Bond
It is common court practice to require a bond to protect the interest of the deceased’s estate, its heirs and creditors. The bond also protects the administrator to ensure they fulfill their duties responsibly.
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Serving as the executor of an estate is an important and time-consuming responsibility. Each state has its own laws detailing an executor’s responsibilities and the timeline for performance. You can be held personally liable for damages if you don’t strictly adhere to the probate laws. Consulting with an experienced attorney can save you time and money down the road. Receive a free claim review and learn about how probate laws affect your situation.