The number of Americans who do not have wills (or similar documents) has increased. Generally, when a loved dies without a will, a probate court appoints an administrator and determines the heirs. Here’s what to expect.
The Trend: Information and Action Gaps
Given the statistics, the chances are good that you have at least one friend or relation who has not prepared a will.
In fact, Caring.Com’s 2020 survey found that although 60% of people think estate planning is important, the number of people who have not yet thought about their own affairs has increased since 2017. Specifically, Caring.com’s survey found:
- Estate planning is becoming less prevalent overall: The number of adult Americans that have a will or another type of estate planning document decreased by nearly 25% since 2017.
- Older adults are less likely to have a will: The number of older and middle-aged adults with estate planning documents dropped by 20% and 25% since 2019, respectively.
- A growing number of people lack the knowledge and resources to get a will: This is especially true among the Hispanic community. In 2020, 200% more Hispanics said they “don’t know how to get a will” (4% in 2017 vs. 12% in 2020).
When no plans are made, the affairs of the deceased are overseen by a probate court, following state laws.
Probate Courts Appoint Administrators and Require Bonds
Generally, the first action a probate court performs is appointing an administrator. This can be a spouse, beneficiary or other person deemed appropriate by the court, based on state laws.
Usually, the court then requires the administrator to obtain a bond, known as an administrator bond. As New Jersey estate planning attorney Catherine Romania explained on lehighvalleylive.com: Each state has different rules and procedures for probate….If there is no will, a bond is generally required based on the value of the estate….
Administrator bonds are also referred to as probate bonds, estate bonds or personal representative bonds. These surety bonds protect the beneficiaries and creditors of the deceased against fraud, negligence or errors made by the administrator.
When a court requests an administrator bond, move quickly and obtain the bond from a trusted source. Colonial Surety Company is an easy choice. We are licensed and admitted in all US states and territories. Our digital, direct to consumer approach is very efficient. Obtain your Administrator (Estate) Bond here!
Understanding the Duties of An Administrator
Once appointed, administrators follow the court’s guidance to close out the affairs of the deceased. Here are examples of some of the related duties, as detailed by LegalZoom:
- Opening an estate bank account
- Arranging for publication of legal notices in a newspaper
- Determining the validity of claims by creditors and paying them (especially the funeral costs and final medical bills)
- Sending notices to beneficiaries
- Selling assets if necessary
- Filing court documents
- Filing a final tax return for the deceased person
- Transferring assets to the beneficiaries
Probate Courts Determine the Distribution of Assets To Heirs
Absent a will, courts follow state laws to divide property among survivors and next of kin of the deceased. As Investopedia explains:
The administrator is tasked with locating any legal heirs of the deceased, including surviving spouses, children, and parents. The probate court will assess what assets need to be distributed among the legal heirs and how to distribute them.
Worth Knowing—and Sharing!
Making preparations for the end of life—our own or a loved one—by nature brings up sad and scary emotions. However, doing so ultimately saves family and friends so much extra trauma, fear, worry, anger, expense and delay. Encourage your family and friends to get informed and take action. Do the same for yourself!
For a simple starting point, AARP suggests becoming familiar with these five legal documents:
- Health Care Proxy/Health Care Durable Power of Attorney
- Living Will/Advance Care Directive
- Financial Power of Attorney
- HIPPA Authorization (for your medical records)
AARP shares further detail (In English and Spanish) HERE!
If you find yourself in probate court on behalf of friends or relations, remember, Colonial Surety offers a direct and digital way to obtain the bonds you will need—administrator bonds, estate bonds, personal representative bonds and probate bonds, and executor bonds. The steps are easy — get a quote online, fill out your information, satisfy underwriting requirements, and enter your payment method. Once approved, you can even print or e-file your bond from your home or office.