“Estate administration” is the name of the process during which the estate of a decedent is settled. While the County Court (probate court) has authority over matters related to probate and estates, a personal representative who is appointed by the court has the duty to care for the day-to-day estate administration activities. The settling of a decedent’s estate involves two main objectives. First, the decedent’s debt must be paid. Second, the decedent’s assets must be distributed.
Initiating Estate Administration
The process begins with the submitting of a petition with the County Court clerk in the county where the decedent resided at the time of their death. If the decedent left a will, then the person named in the will to serve as the personal representative (aka executor) must file the will along with the death certificate and a petition for formal testacy. If there is not a will, then the person wishing to serve as the personal representative must file the death certificate along with a petition for adjudication of intestacy and appointment of administrator. Neb. Rev. Stat. § 30-2326.
Qualification of personal representative. Only certain individuals have the right to be appointed personal representative. If the decedent named someone in their will for the position, the court will give that person preference. As long as they want to serve, are able to serve, and are qualified to serve, the court will grant their petition and appoint them.
If there is no will or the person named in the will is not willing, able, or qualified to serve, then the court first looks to the surviving spouse who is a beneficiary of the will. If that person does is not able or willing, then the court will consider others based on a statutory order of preference. Neb. Rev. Stat. § 30-2412.
Notice to creditors. One of the goals of settling the estate of a decedent is to pay their debts. Most debt does not go away upon death. Creditors are entitled to get paid. For this to happen, the clerk of the court must notify creditors by publishing a notice in a newspaper. This allows both known and unknown creditors to be notified that the decedent’s estate is being settled and gives them the time frame for submitting claims. The notice must be published within 30 days of appointment of the personal representative. Neb. Rev. Stat. § 30-2483.
Inventory estate assets. In order for the personal representative to pay debts and eventually distribute assets, they must first know what property is part of the probate estate and its value. The personal representative is required to make a list of all probate property and file it with the court within three months after appointment. Neb. Rev. Stat. § 30-2467. This is called an inventory.
Pay debts. The first step in the debt payment process is the notice to creditors. The notice lets creditors know that the decedent’s estate is in the process of being settled and the procedure for filing a claim in order to get paid. Creditors must submit their claims within the 2-month claims period. If a creditor misses the deadline, they can petition the court for an extension. Neb. Rev. Stat. § 30-2485. The personal representative will review each claim and pay those that are valid. If the estate is short on assets such that there is not enough to pay all claims, expenses, and taxes, the personal representative is required to pay claims based on how they are classified. For example, family allowances and expenses of administration get paid before any other debts or expenses.
Distribute assets. While asset distribution is the part of the process that most of those involved in an estate administration matter eagerly await, it will only happen after debts and expenses are paid. The personal representative is required to petition the court and request permission to distribute assets after confirming that other obligations have been taken care of and that the estate is in a condition for distribution. Then, the personal representative will look to the will to determine how the assets should be distributed. If there is no will, the personal representative will look to Nebraska state law. Neb. Rev. Stat. § 30-2303
Time Frame for Administration
Probate can be a lengthy process. The time frame varies depending on a number of factors. Small estates can take advantage of simplified procedures and can be completed within just a few months. The average estate will take between 6 months and a year. If there are complications such as will contests or other probate disputes, the time can be extended by several months or even years.