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Administration refers to the process by which an individual to administer and distribute the assets of a deceased individual. We will examine assets and the will or intestate estate (no Will) in the estate to determine the best probate process to use. Smaller estates may be able to use less costly administrations such as a small estate affidavit or muniment of title.
Estate administration is the management and settlement of an estate by a personal representative approved by the court. Estate administration may not be necessary when the decedent’s estate is so small that no action is necessary to distribute the property to the beneficiaries or heirs. However, estate administration is required in most other circumstances.
Estate administration involves the following steps:
- collection of the decedent’s assets;
- payment of debts and claims against the estate;
- payment of estate taxes, if any;
- determination of heirs if the decedent died without a will; and
- distribution of the remainder of the estate to those entitled to it.
If the will names an individual to carry out these duties, he or she is called an executor. If the court appoints such a person because the will does not name an executor or the decedent died without a will, that person is called an administrator. Either way, the executor or administrator has to be approved by the court and has legal obligations and duties to the court and those who receive property from the estate. If the executor or administrator acts improperly, he or she may be held liable for any resulting damages and his or her appointment may be terminated by the court.
Estate Administration Methods in Texas
In Texas, there are several different methods of administering an estate, some of the more common of which are discussed below.
Texas is one of the states that provides for independent administration–administration free of court supervision. This means that after an independent executor or administrator is approved and an inventory of estate assets is filed with the court, the executor or administrator can simply take care of the administration of the estate without any further court involvement or supervision. The independent executor or administrator is free to settle with creditors, set aside the homestead and other exempt property, manage the property of the estate, sell assets for payment of debts or taxes, and distribute the remaining estate to those entitled to it. Thus, independent administration avoids the costs and delays associated with a court-supervised estate administration in which the executor or administrator must seek court approval before doing any of these acts.
A testator can provide for independent administration of his or her estate by inserting in the will a clause such as the following:
“I appoint ________________ as independent executor of my estate to serve without bond, and I direct that no action shall be had in the county court in relation to the settlement of my estate other than the probating and recording of this will and the return of the statutory inventory, appraisement, and list of claims of my estate.”
If the decedent did not provide for independent administration in the will but all distributees under the will agree to it, independent administration may be created upon court approval. If the decedent died without a will, independent administration may be created when all heirs agree. Although a court usually permits independent administration, it has the power to deny the request. If the court denies independent administration, many of the actions of the executor or administrator will require court approval, resulting in unnecessary costs and delays in administering the estate.
Muniment of Title
If there is no need for the appointment of an executor or administrator and the only reason for probating a will is to clear title to property, a will can be admitted to probate as a muniment of title. Under this procedure, there is no executor or administrator appointed. It is a somewhat more simplified method of administering an estate than the traditional formal administration. It is generally used only when there are no debts of the estate to be paid and no other actions that require the appointment of an executor or administrator.
Small Estate Affidavit
If the value of the estate, excluding the homestead, exempt personal property, and nonprobate assets, does not exceed $50,000, no formal administration is necessary if the heirs file an affidavit with the court showing that they are entitled to receive the property of the estate. As mentioned, the values of the homestead and exempt personal property are not included in the $50,000 figure. Up to 10 acres of land with improvements qualifies as an urban homestead of a family or single adult person regardless of its value. Up to 200 acres with improvements for a family or up to 100 acres with improvements for a single adult person qualifies as a rural homestead regardless of its value. Exempt personal property includes items of tangible personal property valued at up to $60,000 per family or $30,000 per single person. The law specifies the extent to which certain types of personal property are exempt. For example, there is no limit up to the maximum on household furnishings, tools, or clothing, but only two firearms are exempt.
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