When someone passes away, a person must be assigned to care for their estate and settle their affairs. Traditionally, that person has been referred to as the executor, but is now more commonly known as the estate administrator or personal representative. The administrator is appointed by the probate court (Chancery Court) and is empowered by the court to make decisions on behalf of the estate.
During the estate administration process, the primary duties and responsibilities of the administrator are to inventory and manage estate property, notify creditors and pay estate debt and expenses, and distribute estate assets.
Inventory and Manage Estate Property
One of the main purposes of the administration process is to ensure that the decedent’s property is cared for until it can be distributed to its new lawful owners. The first step in the process is for the administrator to identify estate property. Every estate is unique. Property may include real estate such as the house where the decedent lived. It may include vehicles and personal property such as the contents of the house. Estate property may also include bank accounts and investment accounts. The administrator must make sure that the property is secure.
Once the administrator has figured out the property that is part of the decedent’s probate estate, they must determine the estate’s value as of the date of the decedent’s death by having the property appraised. Within 90 days of appointment, the administrator must create an inventory of estate assets that must be filed with the court. Miss. Code. Ann. § 91-7-93. This requirement can be waived by the terms of the decedent’s will.
Notify Creditors and Pay Estate Debt and Expenses
Another goal of the estate administration process is to make sure that the estate’s debts have been paid. Debts may include outstanding bills that the decedent had at the time of their death such as credit card bills, car loans, and medical bills. Estate debt also includes expenses related to the decedent’s funeral and burial as well as expenses related to the administration of the estate such as court fees and attorney’s fees.
The administrator is required to notify creditors by publishing a notice in a local newspaper. If a creditor is known, they must mail them a notice. Miss. Code. Ann. § 91-7-145. In order to receive payment, creditors must file their claims against the estate within 90 days of when the notice was first published. Failure to meet the deadline will result in the claim being time-barred.
Note that estate debts and expenses are paid according to a statutory order of priority. If an estate is insolvent, meaning that it has more debt than it has assets only the higher priority debt and expenses will be paid, leaving unpaid debt and no assets to distribute. Miss. Code. Ann. § 91-7-261. The first debts and expenses to be paid are expenses related to the decedent’s last illness, funeral expenses, and expenses related to administration.
Distribute Estate Assets
The last major responsibility of the administrator is to distribute estate assets. Note that debts and expenses are paid first. If the estate is insolvent, then there will be no assets to distribute. Otherwise, assets are distributed according to the terms of the decedent’s will.
If the decedent did not leave a valid will, then Mississippi’s law of intestate succession will apply. That means that instead of distributing assets to specific people and entities that the decedent designated, the administrator would distribute assets to the decedent’s legal heirs as described by statute. For example, if the decedent was survived by a spouse and had children, they would be first in line to inherit estate assets.
Under Mississippi law, estate administrators are not required to work for free. They are entitled to fair compensation based on the work performed. The court will consider the value of the estate as well as the degree of difficulty of the work involved. Miss. Code. Ann. § 91-7-299