Probate administration is the legal process by which a decedent's assets are determined and collected, valid debts are paid, and the remaining assets are distributed to beneficiaries. Distributions will be made in accordance with a valid Will, and if there is no Will, then distributions will be made according to an established “default” formula created by the State. Assets that specifically name a person as a beneficiary, like life insurance or a 401k, pass directly to the named beneficiary without the need for probate administration.
The administration process begins by filing the decedent's Will (if there is one) and death certificate along with a number of probate forms. The person named in the Will to serve as Executor begins this process, and if there is no Will, then anyone, including a creditor, can request to serve in this role as Administrator. Once the forms are accepted by the Court, the Probate Court will establish a bond and set forth a number of requests and deadlines. The Executor or Administrator is required to file specific forms with the Court that identify the decedent's assets and their value. Annual accounting may be required which detail every item of income and expense. Beneficiaries are entitled to be informed of the estate administration process at each step. After sufficient time has passed for creditors to make claims against the estate, the estate may be closed and the remaining assets distributed to the beneficiaries.
This process may be avoided by preparing an estate plan that ensures no assets require probate administration, typically by using a Revocable Trust.