When people pass away, the estate administration process introduces a new cast of characters who will need to be addressed. Though each of these parties may be known, if this is your first time navigating an estate administration process, the terms may be new. First, many of the person's assets may go through probate — a legal process that distributes the person’s assets after death. (Keep in mind also that there are some assets that pass outside of probate. These are generally referred to as non-probate assets). The parties to an estate are the people involved in the probate process.
Although not technically a party to the estate, the deceased person — called the testator or decedent — is essential. When people make wills, they can choose beneficiaries, selecting people who have an interest in their estate. In the case of those who die without having made a will (intestate), state law often dictates who inherits the estate and determines the parties involved.
Parties to an estate include:
- Beneficiaries. Beneficiaries are people named in a will. Testators — people making wills — can leave assets to specific beneficiaries, such as family members and friends. Anyone a testator chooses can be a beneficiary. When making wills, people can leave a beneficiary a portion of the total estate and make specific bequests to individuals, leaving them personal items of sentimental or monetary value.
- Heirs-at-law. State law also provides a framework for who should inherit an estate if a person dies without a will. The distributes or heirs-at-law are the people who have a right to inherit if the decedent died intestate (without a will).
- Fiduciaries. The fiduciary is the person tasked with carrying out the estate plan. If the decedent had a will in place, the fiduciary is the executor named in the will. An administrator will handle their affairs if a person dies without a will. Often, the administrator is a close family member, such as a surviving spouse or child.
- Creditors. Creditors are also parties to an estate. When a person dies with outstanding debt, creditors can receive money from the decedent’s estate.
In specific cases, there might be other parties to an estate:
- Trustees. Trustees become involved when a person establishes a testamentary trust — a trust created in a will.
- Guardians. A guardian may be a party to the estate when a person leaves behind minor children. Individuals can name guardians for underage children in their wills.
Learn more about the basics of estate administration. Armed with these terms and general framework, remember that at the death of a loved one, your first step is to take time to grieve, celebrate their life, and gather with friends/family before you begin the work of administration. At Linville Law Office, PLLC, we have assisted clients move through this process countless times and are here for you if you would like someone to walk beside you during this process. To schedule an initial consultation in person or virtually, give us a call today: 704-323-6712.