Estate Administration | Beginning an Informal Estate Administration Proceeding

by Flanders Law Firm LLC on November 22, 2011

As I’ve discussed, in many states throughout the United States, there are two typical forms of estate administration:  (1) formal and (2) informal.  For this post, I want to discuss and informal probate proceeding.  Caution:  you should talk with an estate administration attorney in your state about these topics as the law in your state may different from this post.

An informal probate proceeding usually begins with the filing of a legal document called a “Petition for Informal Probate” in an appropriate court of law.  What is an appropriate court?  Typically, it will be a state court located in the county where the deceased person (“decedent”) lived or where he or she had property.  Once the proper county is determined, the Petition is filed and the informal probate proceeding can be commenced.

In general, it is often easier and less expensive to proceed informally.  Why? Because the necessity of going to court for a judge’s approval on every decision of the personal representative is not necessary.  This saves time in terms of personal representative involvement and in terms of attorney fees.  On the other hand, if there are factors present which necessitate that a formal probate proceeding should be opened (such as disputing beneficiaries) then the personal representative may be wise to open a formal, supervised administration instead.  Another possible reason for a formal probate is that the original Will cannot be found.  However, that is the topic of another post.

Depending on what state you are in, there are often time limits that must be met when filing a Petition for informal probate.  Again, talking with an experienced MN estate planning lawyer is your first step in the right direction.  For example, an application for informal administration should be filed at any time after 5 days have passed since the decedent’s death, but not more than 3 years after death.

Once an informal probate proceeding is opened the Petition should be filed with other legal documents such as the letters appointing a personal representative.  The “letters” are typically signed and certified by the appropriate county or district court, appointing the personal representative and allowing him or her to probate the estate of the decedent.  These letters essentially give the personal representative permission to act as a fiduciary and liquidate the estate until it can finally be closed.

I’ve spoken quite a bit on here about probating the estate and the personal representative’s fiduciary duties.  I don’t want to rehash everything here, suffice it to say that your should talk with an estate planning attorney about getting letters from the court and then lawfully administering your duty as a personal representative.

Once an application for informal probate is filed with the court, a meeting will typically have to be held with the Probate Registrar or other such named officer of the court.  This requirement may not be there in every state and you should talk with an estate administration lawyer if you are unsure.  If the Probate Registrar approves the proceeding, the informal probate can move forward and the personal representative can begin his or her duties.

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