If someone dies without a will, or they have a will but the value of their assets is over a certain amount (currently $150,000), the estate has to be administered through the court. This process is called “probate,” and it is a way to wrap up someone's affairs after death. It involves gathering the assets of the decedent, paying debts and taxes, and ultimately distributing the property to the heirs or beneficiaries. This is a lot of work, and for it to run smoothly, someone needs to be in charge. The person responsible for the administration process may be called by a different name, depending on how they were appointed:
- Executor: If the decedent had a will, and he or she specifically named someone to act in this capacity within the document, the term is “executor.”
- Administrator: If the decedent failed to name someone to this position, the court will have to appoint someone. In this situation, the term used is “administrator.”
- Personal Representative: This is an umbrella term that encompasses both the executor and the administrator. This term is often used to refer to both when discussing the probate process in general.
While the names may be different, the role and corresponding duties are the same. Their job is to responsibly handle the administration of the probate estate for the benefit of the heirs and/or beneficiaries.
Another similar term is “trustee.” A trustee serves a similar function to a personal representative, except that this role occurs in the context of trust administration. If the decedent's property is held in a trust when they die, then the probate process can often be avoided altogether. The trustee then carries out the terms of the trust (subject to certain legal requirements) outside the supervision of the court. The trustee performs several of the same duties, and has several of the same responsibilities, as would be found in probate.
Regardless of the name, the responsibility remains the same in probate, and is similar in a trust administration. Appointment as either personal representative in a probate case, or as a trustee for the administration of a trust, is an important position of confidence. You should take great care to exercise your duties to the best of your abilities. It will make the process run much smoother for both you and the beneficiaries.
Helix Law Firm can help with probate and trust administration
At Helix Law Firm, we can take the burden of trust or probate administration off your shoulders. We can help make sure the rules are followed, keep up with deadlines, and communicate with heirs and beneficiaries on your behalf. If you are a beneficiary, we can help make sure your interests are protected.
If you're interested in learning more about how Helix can help, please call us at (619) 567-4447 to schedule a free consultation.