When a person dies, their remaining property and assets are known as their probate estate. The decedent’s next of kin—or those named in their will—may have interests in the property from the estate, but that does not mean they can take possession of it just because the decedent died.
In order for others to take legal ownership of the estate’s property, someone must serve as a personal representative for the decedent and oversee the administration of the estate. Administration involves making the appropriate court filings in the county where the decedent lived, compiling and presenting an inventory, paying the last debts, and distributing the property to those entitled to receive it. The process usually takes several months or longer.
The term administrator usually applies to someone handling the estate of a decedent without a will. When someone dies with a will in place, the term executor is used. In Indiana, “personal representative” covers both situations.
Personal representatives have many duties, including:
- Presenting the will, if any, and proof of its valid execution
- Determining the estate’s creditors
- Providing notice of the proceedings to all interested parties
- Preparing an inventory of the estate
- Filing tax returns on behalf of the decedent and estate, where necessary
- Handling beneficiary disputes and formal objections or contests
- Distributing the property as required by law
Administration can be an all-consuming process, depending on the state of the decedent’s affairs and the family relationships involved. Even a small estate can be overwhelming. A probate attorney can help you understand what needs to be done and how to accomplish it.
Probate for Estates in Indiana
The first steps for handling an estate will depend on two factors: the size of the estate and any anticipated difficulties in the proceedings.
Small estates may avoid formal administration. If someone who died on or after June 30, 2022, had a gross estate worth $100,000 or less (after liens), the person who handles it does not need to go to court before they get to work. They can simply divide up the property and file an affidavit with the court declaring how the estate was apportioned. However, they must also provide notice and a full accounting to any known creditors and anyone else with an interest in the estate. Unless someone objects or files an action within two months, the estate will be closed.
If the estate has a higher value than $100,000, a personal representative must request letters of administration from the court. Under Indiana law, they may request either a supervised administration—with the court’s oversight—or an unsupervised administration.
In an unsupervised administration, the personal representative can take most actions without the court’s permission—they can sell or purchase property, make agreements with debtors or creditors, and generally act with authority on behalf of the estate. This will allow matters to proceed much more quickly and with less expense. However, all heirs or distributees—those named to receive property in the will—have to agree to an unsupervised administration, and the estate cannot owe more money than it has.
Otherwise, the court will supervise the administration. The personal representative will need to seek the court’s permission to sell property and make agreements with debtors or creditors on the estate’s behalf, unless the decedent left a will that provides them that power.
What the Personal Representative Has to Do
Indiana law sets out the responsibilities of a personal representative. Many of these can require considerable skilled work and research, especially if the decedent did not have their affairs in order before they died. Nonetheless, these duties must be completed by the court’s deadlines. They include:
- Notification of interested parties and creditors
After receiving letters of administration, the personal representative must send notice to every heir, every person named in the will, and every creditor. They must also prepare a notice for publication in the county’s newspaper, advising the public that the estate is in probate court. The personal representative is responsible for determining how many creditors the decedent had by reviewing financial records and making inquiries.
- Appraising the assets and creating an inventory
Within two months of their appointment, the personal representative must produce an inventory of the assets of the deceased, including their real property, furniture, household goods, securities, debts owing, bank accounts, and other personal property. All of this must be appraised at fair market value. When filing for the closing of the estate, the personal representative must also provide an accounting of the property.
- Maintaining the decedent’s estate
The personal representative must collect rents, where applicable, and keep the decedent’s real property in usable condition. The personal representative can be held personally liable for estate property that they receive.
- Distributing property to heirs and those named in the will
Depending on the situation, this may become complicated. When a person dies without a will, the law of intestate succession provides that their next of kin inherit. If they had multiple surviving heirs, the estate is divided into fractions—a difficult situation to settle. And if the decedent left a spouse or minor children, those heirs are entitled to an allowance from the estate. A spouse is even entitled to “take against the will” and receive a share of the estate instead of what the will provided for them.
These can be complicated and painful matters to resolve. If you need help with the administration of an estate in Indiana, or if you want to know more about the process, we would be glad to speak with you. At Beeman Heifner Benge, P.A. we can advise you, assist you with filings or disputes, and relieve the pressure of handling your loved one’s affairs. Call us today at (765) 234-8024 to set up an appointment in our Anderson or Indianapolis offices.