Estate Administration in Washington, DC

Most often, people refer to the term probate as the process of administering an estate. However, estate administration may or may not involve a probate proceeding. Typically, if someone dies with assets in their sole name with no beneficiary designations or joint owners, a probate proceeding is initialized. If you are interested in creating an estate, schedule a consultation with a DC estate planning lawyer.

Choosing Personal Representatives

Nominating a Personal Representative in a person’s last will and testament is one of the most important aspects of creating a last will and testament. If a person dies without a last will and testament, or all of the person’s names in their last will and testament are unwilling or unable to serve, DC law provides an order of priority for the individuals who can serve. Depending on who those individuals are, the probate process can actually be a little bit more complicated and a little bit more costly. In addition, those individuals may not be the same individuals that a person would have chosen to serve as the personal representative of their estate.

A relative or a friend nominated in the last will and testament is often appointed to serve as the Personal Representative of the estate. Individuals are often familiar with the term ‘executor’ or ‘administrator,’ but in the District of Columbia the correct term is ‘Personal Representative.’

The Personal Representative is required to marshal the assets of the estate, pay the legally enforceable debts, prepare and file any required tax returns, and make distribution pursuant to the terms of the will, or the laws of the District Columbia regarding intestacy. During the marshaling and valuing of assets phase, a Personal Representative may employ appraisers to value the real estate and tangible personal property. Realtors and auctioneers assist with the clean out and sale of the decedent’s residence. Typically, the Personal Representative also works closely with a tax adviser or accountant to ensure that the decedent’s final income tax return or any fiduciary income tax returns are filed. An accountant or the estate attorney may also be required to assist with the preparation and filing of any federal or District of Columbia estate tax returns if they are due.

Important Things to Consider

An estate administrator, called a Personal Representative should be someone who is over the age of eighteen, and has no major issues with the law or bankruptcy. The Personal Representative should be reliable, good with finances and paperwork, and detail-oriented. Generally, a testator should look for someone they know who will best carry out his or her wishes.

Kerri Castellini: Personal Approach to Estate Administration

My approach to estate administration is to try to be as efficient and timely as possible. Although the administration of estates often take at least a year, I find that the sooner that we can close the estate, the sooner the family can complete their reviewing process and begin to heal from the loss of a loved one. Although we aim to be efficient, it is important for clients to understand that the administration of an estate is a process.

Communicating With Personal Representatives

My duties as an attorney for estate administration when I’m representing the Personal Representative are to the Personal Representative. I may keep beneficiaries abreast of what’s going on throughout the administration of the estate regarding the status of the administration. However, while representing the Personal Representative in his or her fiduciary capacity, I do not represent the beneficiaries of the estate.  I also ensure the beneficiaries receive the required notices.

In the event it appears there may be conflicts or an issue, I may advise a beneficiary to retain his or her own separate counsel.

Unique Aspects of Estate Administration in DC

Probate for each jurisdiction is very unique and probate for each type of case can be very unique. Understanding the requirements, responsibilities, and deadlines of the administration process is not only specific to the jurisdiction, but is also specific to the facts and assets of the case. For example, a different probate procedure may be followed if a creditor is opening an estate versus the nominated personal representative. Generally, the laws in DC are very specific regarding probate.


Estate Administration in Relation to Estate Planning

Estate administration is generally something that occurs after a client’s death or after the loss of a loved one. In the estate planning phase, a person should have knowledge of estate administration and understand the procedure. The person should know what their last will and testament governs or what their trust governs to help them make decisions in the estate planning phase.

Generally, understanding what the plan does upon a person’s death in the administration process may help them make better decisions and create a plan that is unique or reflects the person’s assets, their family dynamic, and their tax situation.