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What Does It Mean to Be an Estate Administrator?

Estate Administrator in the First PlaceIf you’ve recently lost a loved one and they did not leave a will, you’ll still have to sit and discuss estate matters with your family. Questions like whether you need to go through probate, who will be the Administrator of estate, or what are the surviving spouse’s rights will appear.

 What Does Estate Mean?

Estate refers to the deceased person’s property, money, belongings, and other possessions.

During this conversation, you might work through other queries like:

  • “Which family member should distribute the estate assets and how?”
  • “Who are the beneficiaries?”
  • “How do we divide the deceased person’s property among ourselves?”
  • “Do we have to pay any debts the decedent left behind?”

This article will attempt to simplify this topic, clarify, and answer some of the most pressing questions you likely have about estate administrators and the estate administration process.

So, let’s begin.

What Is an Administrator of an Estate?

An Administrator of Estate is a person appointed by the Probate Court to manage the estate when the loved one who died did not leave a Testament and Last Will.

Considering that there is no Will to indicate who should manage the estate, the Administrator of the Estate is designated by the heirs of the deceased and confirmed by the Probate Court.

Why Do We Need an Estate Administrator in the First Place?

To avoid possible conflicts after the death of a loved one, one person needs to be officially in charge of handling the estate of the decedent.

Starting a probate proceeding can facilitate this process. Once the decision has been made to begin probate, it can take 3-6 months to officially open the estate, depending on the county.

During this time, the individual named on the will — an Executor — will be authorized to administer the estate and determine how assets will be distributed.

But if a person dies without a will (what we call intestacy) or the executor declines their duties, no one will be authorized to manage the deceased’s affairs. In this case, the Probate Court will appoint someone to handle the decedent’s estate, and this is the Administrator of estate.

You need an official document called a Letter of Administration to prove that you are the estate’s Administrator.

 

What are Letters of Administration?

When there is no will, a court order will be issued, officially appointing someone to represent the estate, and it is called a Letter of Administration. This document gives the nominated Administrator the authority to collect assets, work with creditors, and act on behalf of the deceased person’s estate.

Without this document, no one has any power to take action on behalf of the estate whatsoever. Financial institutions will not be able to speak with you, and you may not have the authority to transfer or sell property, including the estate home.

To obtain the Letters of Administration, first, you must ensure that the deceased did NOT leave a will. Then, you must file an appropriate petition in the Probate Court to begin the process.

How long does it usually take to become an Administrator of Estate in Georgia?

It depends on the county, but when there are no disputes and all initial paperwork is filed correctly, you may receive the documentation within 3-6 months of filing.

If the deceased did leave a will, you would receive a different order called Letters of Testamentary. Letters of Testamentary will allow you to act on behalf of the decedent and manage tax-related matters.

Administrator of Estate vs Executor. What’s the Difference?

comparison with executor

Executors and administrators share the same responsibilities, but these two roles are assigned differently.

An Executor is someone the deceased named on the will to handle their estate affairs. The named executor will be required to manage the estate, pay debts, and distribute the estate’s remaining assets to beneficiaries.

An Administrator, on the other hand, is someone that the Probate Court appoints if one of the following is true:

  • The deceased did not leave a will.
  • The family members cannot find a will.
  • The named executor refuses their duties.
  • The executor is unable to fulfill their responsibilities for any reason.

Temporary vs. Permanent Administrator of an Estate

Temporary administrators have minimal abilities but are often quickly assigned because of emergencies (e.g., imminent property foreclosure).

Although, in certain situations, it may be beneficial to file to become a temporary administrator, there are a few drawbacks:

  • There may be a time limit on how long the temporary Administrator can serve before they have to file for permanent letters.
  • They have minimal authority and can only take action to protect and preserve estate assets and nothing else.
  • It may be required to serve with a bond and submit inventory and annual income tax returns.

When a Permanent Administrator is officially appointed, they will have certain powers and greater flexibility in administering the estate.

 

 

Estate Administrator Duties

 

Administrator of Estate no will Georgia

If you’re wondering what an estate administrator should do, their typical duties include:

  • Collecting all the assets of the decedent
  • Keeping an inventory of the estate
  • Verifying and settling any tax obligations with federal and state authorities
  • Paying the deceased person’s bills, debts, and expenses of estate administration (e.g., cost of hiring a lawyer, if any)
  • Securing an IRS tax identification number
  • Establishing an estate bank account to deposit all estate funds
  • Distributing the remainder of the assets to beneficiaries after paying all the debts and expenses
  • Upholding the oath that they have taken after being appointed
  • Petitioning the Court to close the estate after all the assets have been distributed

If there is no will to identify the assets of the estate, the Administrator may have to comb through the personal files and financial records of the deceased to gather all the necessary information.

How to Become Administrator of an Estate without a Will?

Any individual who would like to petition to become the Administrator may do so, but the most common choices are typically a surviving spouse or a next of kin.

The scope of an estate administrator’s authority is vast. They can determine how to settle the decedent’s estate and how the assets of the estate should be distributed. For example, they may choose which assets to sell and which to hold for later distribution to the heirs.

Can an administrator of an estate take everything?

No, an administrator of the estate can act only within the limits established by the Letters of Administration.

Can an administrator of an estate sell property?

Yes, an administrator of the estate can sell the property and distribute it to the heirs.

Who is not qualified to become an administrator?

Candidates below the age of 18, corporations, and persons with a questionable background (e.g., criminal record) are generally not eligible. Ultimately, the Probate Court decides who will be appointed for this position within its discretion.

How is an Administrator of Estate selected when there is no will?

If all heirs make a unanimous selection, the Court will often nominate that person as the Administrator. Otherwise, it will appoint the person it considers best to serve the estate’s interest.

 

Can an administrator of an estate be a beneficiary?

Yes, an administrator may be selected among beneficiaries.

States base their selection on various criteria, but the Court generally uses this priority list as guidance:

  • Surviving spouse (unless an action of divorce was pending at death)
  • Preferred Heir (selected by a majority of the heirs)
  • Any other eligible party
  • A creditor
  • The County Administrator (someone who works for the Court to administer estates)

Remember that the Probate Judge is not required to follow this list and has a wide range of discretion to appoint the person they feel is best for the estate.

 

Can someone who is not an immediate family member of the deceased be an Administrator of an Estate?

Yes. Although the spouse or a family member is often chosen as Administrator, other people can apply as long as all heirs approve.

If the heirs cannot make a unanimous selection, the Court may decide to appoint an Administrator of the Court’s choosing. It may also consider appointing a County Administrator.

Other entities like guardianship agencies (if the deceased was incapacitated) and creditors may also be considered.

 

What if I’m Opposed to the Nominated Administrator?

If you have any reservations about the person petitioning for the role, you may want to consider filing a legal objection. Beyond this period, the Court may authorize them to administer the estate.

Filing an objection requires a legal basis, and there are many different options to consider for the legal objection. It is best to speak with your attorney on what objection may be best for your situation.

If you claim that someone is unfit, you will be required to submit evidence to support it. If priority is the basis of your objection, that means someone else ranks higher on the priority list under Georgia Law and should be considered first for this position.

Do Estate Administrators Get Paid?

Once an administrator is appointed, they will be compensated based on the quality of their work, and the amount they receive will depend on the state and the size of the estate.

To receive compensation, they must fully account for their expenses and time spent doing the work.

What Are the Potential Liabilities of Becoming an Estate Administrator?

Estate administrators are accountable for the following involved parties:

Creditors

Administrators must satisfy the estate’s creditors before distributing assets to the beneficiaries or anyone entitled to the estate. In Georgia, a priority system dictates which creditor should get paid first, and the Administrator must follow it in the correct order.

If the Administrator fails to pay the deceased’s creditors or follows the list in the wrong order, they will be personally responsible for satisfying the creditor.

Heirs

Keeping an accounting of estate assets and liabilities is one of the responsibilities of an estate administrator.

If an heir or beneficiary feels the appointed Administrator is not being transparent, they may file with the Probate Court to request a detailed accounting from the Administrator.

If the Administrator mismanages the assets of the estate, the beneficiaries may petition to have them removed from their position or personally reimburse the estate.

Who Are the Beneficiaries of an Estate?

The will should determine the beneficiaries entitled to the assets of the estate, but if there isn’t one, the state’s intestacy laws will apply.

Probate Court

The estate administrator will take an oath once they are appointed to their position.

The Court may request them to file paperwork, such as an inventory or accounting, to show the estate’s progress. If the Administrator fails to comply, the Probate Judge may request a hearing or even remove them for failing to provide the necessary information.

What’s Next?

The estate administration process and appointing an administrator of the estate can be very tedious, especially if you need clarification on what questions to ask and in what order.

If you need clarification from a probate lawyer, we invite you first to download a copy of our Georgia Probate Handbook to find out all the details. If you need further help, contact our office at (770) 796-4582 or arrange a probate consultation.

 

Download the Georgia Probate Handbook.

Learn Important Probate Essentials, including key things that go wrong in an estate, how to prevent them, and what to do if they happen.

    About the author

    Erik J. Broel
    Founder & ceo

    Erik founded the firm in 2009. He sees it as his personal mission to demystify the process of handling an estate or trust, and to help people by making the complex estate process simple and accessible. He believes there is always a better way to do things, and loves finding new and innovative ways to deliver better, more effective service that solves the client’s key problem or issue, and improves the client’s life.

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