Estate Planning: Formal and Informal Estate Administration

by Flanders Law Firm LLC on November 21, 2011

Although the law is different in every state, and you should talk to your estate administration lawyer in your state about the process, it is true that many states of two, basic kind of estate administration procedures:  (1) formal and (2) informal.

What is the difference between formal and informal estate administration?

I will apologize ahead of time, but I am going to use some terms that may be difficult for none lawyers to understand.  Please refer back to a one of my prior posts on the meaning of the term probate for further information.

In many states, the probating of a deceased person’s (decedent’s) Will or Trust document can be accomplished with minimal court involvement.  As a result, this sort of proceeding would qualify as informal.  On the other hand, a court can be more involved with the probating of an estate when it is necessary.  This is referred to as a formal administration.

Informal Estate Administration

Informal estate proceedings are usually commenced by filing an application with a court or Probate Registrar.  In some states, the personal representative and a Minnesota probate lawyer will meet with the Probate Registrar to discuss how the estate will be proceeding.  After this meeting, the personal representative is responsible for providing notice to all interested parties in by mail and to the public at-large by publication in a newspaper.  This explains why you see notices of estate administration in your local newspaper.

Once an informal proceeding is commenced, the proceeding will move forward under the supervision of a Probate Registrar or other titled entity.  This entity will then issue non-judicial orders, meaning there is typically no personal involvement by a judge.  The Probate Registrar will oversee the commencement of the informal proceeding and approve the appointment of a personal representative.  In some states, the Probate Registrar or other informal entity may deny the application for informal administration.  There is a variety of reasons why the application might be denied and they are usually related to complexity of the estate issues which require formal estate administration.

Formal Estate Administration

A formal estate administration proceeding begins when a petition is filed with a Probate Court.  The Petition will be filed by the personal representative and the estate administration lawyer.  Like the informal administration, the proper legal paperwork must be filed with the court and proper notice must be given to all interested parties and published in a newspaper.  After notice is given, the court will typically hold a hearing on the petition.  The notice and offering all interested parties to be heard offer a foundation for a binding legal proceeding – meaning later jurisdictional challenges which may be brought later would likely be unsuccessful.

Reasons for starting a formal estate administration include (among other things): the possible complication of distribution of the estate to a minor heir; uncertainty about the identity of heirs; uncertainty about where heirs or beneficiaries are living; fighting among the heirs; inaccurate descriptions of the deceased persons real or personal property; an heir caused the death of the deceased person; and other complications.

If you have questions about whether a formal or informal estate administration is required, you should speak with a local estate administration lawyer who can guide you through the process. Estate administration is one of the most complicated areas of the law and many rules and procedures have to be diligently followed.

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