Probate and Trust Administration
At Hunt & Associates, our attorneys represent personal representatives, trustees, beneficiaries, and creditors in probate proceedings and in administering trusts. In addition to navigating the legal hazards associated with these procedures, our lawyers respect the emotional difficulties associated with dealing with a loved one’s estate and attempt to make the probate or trust administration process as painless as possible.
Most people cringe when they hear the word “probate”. “Probate” is a word that, over the years, has gotten a bad name. People are often told to avoid probate at all costs due to the amount of time involved in the process and that the amount of attorney fees associated with probate will eat up an entire estate. Although every probate matter that we handle is unique, our firm’s goal is to minimize the amount of time that a case remains in probate and to minimize the fees and expenses of the process.
Part of the fear associated with probate is unfamiliarity with the probate process. Hunt & Associates‘ familiarity and experience in probate and trust administration can alleviate these fears and hopefully reassure you.
Essentially, probate is a court supervised process which results in the transfer of property from a deceased person to the heirs or beneficiaries designated in their will. The process is intended to protect the integrity of a person’s wishes concerning the ultimate disposition of their property.
During the probate process a personal representative (sometimes referred to as an “executor”) is appointed to gather and manage the deceased person’s property. The personal representative will ensure that the deceased person’s creditors are paid and that ultimately the deceased person’s property is properly distributed to that individual’s heirs (if he did not have a will) or his beneficiaries (if he did have a will).
The personal representative is a fiduciary and owes the beneficiaries and creditors of the estate fiduciary duties which include, but are not limited to:
- Taking the necessary and legally required steps to administer and close the estate (preparing inventories, accountings, and notifying creditors of the deceased person)
- Investing estate assets in a reasonable and prudent manner (in other words, no high risk investments)
- Acting in a manner that avoids conflicts of interest, self dealing and impartiality to the heirs, beneficiaries, and creditors of the estate
- Adequately protecting estate assets from theft, damage or rapid depreciation
- Delegating certain duties wisely (such as hiring lawyers, accountants and investment advisors when necessary)
- Keeping the heirs and beneficiaries of the estate reasonably informed
- Keeping a paper trail of all transactions, including the sale of personal property, real property, and loans to or from the estate
At the end of the probate process which can last from 6 months to a number of years, the deceased person’s property is distributed to that individual’s heirs or the beneficiaries designated in that individual’s will.
At Hunt & Associates our attorneys are familiar with the probate process, accessible to our clients, and work with our clients to ensure that they are comfortable with this unfamiliar process.
For our clients that are trustees or beneficiaries of a trust, we provide similar services in administering a deceased person’s trust. Much like probate, most people have never been a trustee of trust or the beneficiary of trust, such that trust administration is just as confusing as probate.
The person who creates a trust is known as the trustor or settlor. The trustor will designate a trustee (often himself) or trustees to administer the trustor’s property in accordance with the terms of the trust either during the trustor’s lifetime or after the trustor’s death.
For the most part, a trustee is charged with performing the same tasks as a personal representative, except without court supervision. The trustee owes similar fiduciary duties to beneficiaries and creditors.
Depending on the type of trust and whether the trust was properly funded or drafted, trust administration can be substantially cheaper than probate. However, the same issues that can make probate an expensive and tedious process – allegations of undue influence or lack of capacity, numerous creditors, or difficulties in selling property – can result in expensive and prolonged trust administration.
Additionally, the costs associated with drafting a trust can be more expensive than drafting a will. Consequently, merely having a trust does not mean that the trust administration process will be less expensive, less confusing, or quicker than probate.
Contact the attorneys at Hunt & Associates for their assistance in helping you through these unfamiliar, confusing and often times emotional processes.