Estate administration is the legal process of settling the estate of a decedent. Both testate estates (the decedent had a will) and intestate estates (the decedent did not have a will), must go through estate administration. In Montana the District Court acts as the probate court and has jurisdiction over estate and probate matters. There is a District Court in each of the 56 counties in Montana. During the process the court appointed personal representative has the duties and responsibilities related to managing the decedent’s estate and caring for the activities required to settle the decedent’s estate and distribute its assets as required by the will or Montana law.
Initiating Estate Administration
The person wishing to serve as personal representative initiates probate and the administration process by filing an application for probate with the District Court in the county where the decedent was a resident at the time of their death. For the court to approve a petitioner for the role of personal representative, the petitioner must be at least 18 years old. If the decedent left a will, typically it is the person named in the will to serve as executor (aka personal representative) who initiates the process and seeks appointment.
Notice to creditors. Payment of creditors is part of the administration process. Unless notice has already been given, upon appointment the personal representative must do so by publication and by mail. The personal representative must publish a notice announcing their appointment once a week for 3 successive weeks in a newspaper of general circulation. For known creditors, the personal representative may send notice by mail or delivery. Creditors are given a deadline to file claims that is based on the date the notice is published or sent. The claims of creditors who fail to present their claims by the deadline are forever barred. The personal representative is not liable to any creditor for giving or failing to give notice. Mont. Code Ann. § 72-3-801
Inventory estate assets. Another of the responsibilities of the personal representative is to identify the assets that are a part of the estate and determine their value. In fact, within 9 months of appointment, they need to make a list of the assets and their value. This is called an inventory. The inventory must be made available to interested parties. Mont. Code Ann. § 72-3-607
Pay debts. Claims that are filed within the claim period are eligible to be paid. However, they will only be paid if they are determined to be valid and if there are enough funds in the estate. If not, then they are paid depending on how they are classified. The claims that have top priority include expenses of administration, reasonable funeral expenses and medical expenses of the decedent’s last illness, and federal estate and Montana state estate taxes. Mont. Code Ann. § 72-3-807
Distribute assets. Asset distribution is determined based on whether the decedent left a will. If there is a will, then estate assets will be distributed by the personal representative to the decedent’s family, friends, charitable organizations, and others as directed in the will. If the individual died without a will then estate assets will be distributed to the decedent’s legal heirs according to Montana law of intestate succession.
According to Montana law if a decedent is survived by a spouse only, their spouse will receive 100% of the estate. If the individual had children with that spouse, then the spouse is also entitled to receive 100% of the estate property. Mont. Code Ann. § 72-2-112. However, if the decedent has children who are not also the children of the surviving spouse or if the decedent did not leave a surviving spouse, the distribution of property becomes more complicated, but is detailed in the statute.
Final accounting. Before the court will close an estate and discharge the personal representative, the personal representative must file a final accounting with the court or deliver it to interested parties. The accounting must detail the amount of money received and disbursed by the personal representative, the amount of all claims presented against the estate, the names of the claimants, and any other appropriate information to show the state of the estate’s affairs. Mont. Code Ann. § 72-3-1005
End of administration. Once debts, expenses, and taxes have been paid or otherwise resolved, and assets distributed, the personal representative can file a request with the District Court to close the estate and end administration. Mont. Code Ann. § 72-3-807