In Washington, D.C., estate administration is the legal process of settling the estate of a deceased person. It involves an a personal representative appointed by the court wrapping up the affairs that the decedent left unfinished. For example, during the estate administration process, the personal representative must make sure outstanding debts left by the decedents are paid or otherwise addressed. They must also make sure all of the property owned by the decedent is legally passed on to the propriate people. Because finalizing an estate involves an understanding to District of Columbia’s statutes related to probate, if you are involved in the administration of an estate, immediately contact an experienced Washington, D.C. estate administration lawyer right away.
Estate Administration Process in Washington, D.C.
To initiate a probate case, a Petition for Probate along with the decedent’s will must be filed with probate court. In Washington, D.C., the Superior Court has jurisdiction over probate matters. D.C. Code Ann. § 18-101. It is located at 515 5th Street, NW, on the third floor. Note that even if the decedent did not have a will, court supervised estate administration is still required.
The court will review the petition and will, if any, and appoint a personal representative. There are many reasons that a court may decline to grant a petition. For example, if someone challenges the authenticity of the will and initiates a will contest, the court will have to first resolve the will contest before it rules on the petition. D.C. Code Ann. § 20-305. Similarly, there may be a challenge to the person wishing to be appointed personal representative.
Because of the potential of complications and controversy at any point in the process, it’s important to have an experienced D.C. estate administration lawyer on your team.
Once appointed, there are specific tasks that a personal representative must complete:
- Manage decedent’s probate property. The personal presentative is required to locate, secure, and appraise the assets in the probate estate, and send an inventory to interested parties. Note that only certain property is considered probate property. For example, personal property and real estate individually owned by the decedent is probate property. Property such as retirement accounts with designated beneficiaries, life insurance, and real estate owned with others with survivorship rights are not probate property. An experienced estate administration attorney in Washington D.C. will understand what is part of a probate estate and what must be included in the inventory
- Settle estate debt and expenses. Part of settling the unfinished business of a decedent is caring for debt they left behind. Most people leave some debt. It might be restricted to outstanding utility bills or credit card bills. It may include medical bills, car payments, or student loans. It is up to the personal representative to notify creditors of the claims period and pay off any valid debt in accordance with Washington D.C.’s rules related to estate debt payments. In addition, the personal representative is required to keep track of estate expenses and pay them as well.
- Distribute assets. The final major task in the estate administration process is asset distribution. The personal representative must distribute any assets that remain in to the estate after debts and expenses are paid to beneficiaries according to the terms of the will. The decedent did not leave a will, then the assets would go to the decedent’s legal heirs according to Washington, D.C.’s intestate succession statute. D.C. Code Ann. § 20-301 et seq.
Note that in Washington, D.C. the estate administration process generally takes about 8-12 months. However, the timeframe depends on many factors including the size of the estate, the complexity of assets, and if there is probate litigation.
Small Estates Options in Washington, D.C.
The estate administration process in Washington, D.C. can be costly and takes a long time. If he estate has relatively few assets, the law provides for a simplified option. To qualify for the simplified process, the value of the probate estate must not be greater than $40,000. D.C. Code Ann. § § 20-351 et seq. To learn more about the simplified process and to find out if the estate you are concerned about would qualify, contact an experienced estate administration attorney serving Washington D.C.