What Happens to an Estate After a Person Dies?

August 13, 2013
Updated on October 9, 2020

Estate administration is the process that occurs after a person dies. During this process, the decedent’s probate assets are collected, creditors are paid, and then the remaining assets are distributed to the decedent’s beneficiaries in accordance with the decedent’s will. Probate assets are all of the assets that a person owns in his or her individual name at death. A will determines the distribution of those assets.

A will also names the person the decedent selected to administer the decedent’s estate. The administrator is sometimes referred to as an executor or personal representative. The person named as the administrator must file the will with the court and petition to open the process of probate. When the administrator’s petition is granted, the process of probate officially begins. Depending on the value of the decedent’s probate assets and the laws of the relevant state, a probate proceeding is not always required. Before submitting anything to the court, the administrator should discuss the administration of the decedent’s estate with an estate planning and probate attorney who will guide the administrator through the probate process. Having an attorney involved will protect the administrator from liability concerns and ensure that the estate is properly administered.

The administrator must first give notice of the estate administration. State law in the state where the decedent resided will determine who must receive notice and when this notification must occur. Typically, notice must be given to all parties who have an interest in the estate. The administrator must also advertise the estate so that any creditors of the decedent will have an opportunity to make their claims. The administrator is responsible for paying any claims made against the estate from the assets within the estate, and must pay these claims before distributing anything to the beneficiaries. The administrator will also be responsible for filing income tax returns and, if necessary, estate tax returns on behalf of the decedent and the decedent’s estate.

After giving the appropriate notice and advertising the estate, the administrator must locate and collect all of the decedent’s assets. After all debts have been satisfied, the administrator may begin to distribute the remaining assets in accordance with the decedent’s will.