When a person passes away, Alabama law has a process known as estate administration through which the deceased person’s assets and remaining debts and obligations can be resolved. Not all estates require formal probate administration through a court, but many do. It all depends on the overall value of the estate and how the assets are owned upon death.
WHEN IS PROBATE NECESSARY?
In general, small estates can usually be resolved without extensive court proceedings. So-called “small estates” can be handled through summary administration in most cases. There are a number of restrictions. For instance, to qualify for summary administration, the estate must meet the following requirements (not an exhaustive list):
- The total value of all assets is less than $25,000
- All debts and claims have already been paid
- There is no real estate remaining to be distributed to heirs
- No other estate or petitions filed
- All funeral and burial expenses have been paid
If the estate is worth more than $25,000 or all technical requirements can not be satisfied, then formal probate may be required.
THINGS THAT DO NOT COUNT AS PROBATE ASSETS
When considering the total value of a probate estate, it is important to remember that not everything is automatically part of a decedent’s estate. The following types of assets generally pass to heirs without becoming part of probate:
- Life insurance policies (pass via beneficiary designation)
- Any real estate held in joint tenancy with right of survivorship
- Any bank accounts or investments held in joint tenancy with right of survivorship
- Payable or transferable on death accounts
- Gifts made during life
- Anything else that has a beneficiary designation
WILL OR NO WILL
A lot depends on whether there is a will. A will must be filed with the court, even if you do not intend to open a formal probate estate. If there is a will, it generally will do the following:
- Waive bond requirements
- Name the executor (and backups in case he or she cannot serve)
- State who receives specific tangible items
- State who receives cash and real properties
- State who receives the residue (leftover value) of the estate
Without a will, Alabama’s default rules will apply and determine who receives the value of the estate, and this may not always follow what the decedent would have wanted.
SERVING AS AN EXECUTOR
If there is a will, it will name the person responsible for handling all of the estate’s affairs. This person may be eligible to receive some compensation for doing this. It is a big job because the executor also must make sure to pay claims and resolve disputes.
Many times, family members and heirs get into disputes over the value of an estate or ambiguous language in wills. When disputes arise, things can get expensive and frustrating. This is why it is important to have knowledgeable and experienced Birmingham probate lawyers working closely with you from the start.
EXPERIENCED BIRMINGHAM ESTATE ADMINISTRATION LAWYERS
If you have learned that you are the executor of an estate, or perhaps you suspect that the executor of a loved one’s estate is mishandling the estate, you need skilled legal representation to help things go smoothly and to protect the estate and the heirs. Call Five Points Law Group today, and find out how we can help you manage and administer the estate properly.