In Nevada, probate matters are handled by the District Court system. Probate is a legal process that allows for the orderly settling of a decedent’s estate and transfer of their assets to their beneficiaries and heirs. The personal representative, usually a family member, is responsible for managing the administration process. In Nevada, an estate must go through an administration process regardless of whether there is a will.
The prospect of having to deal with probate may seem overwhelming at a time when you are still mourning the death of a loved one. Unfortunately, probate activities must begin immediately after the person’s death, as the goal is to wrap up the estate and distribute assets as quickly as possible. In fact, if there is a will, Nevada law requires that it be filed within 30 days of knowledge of the decedent’s death. NRS §155.010
To start the probate process, a petition must be filed with the specific District Court that has jurisdiction over the decedent’s estate. That would be court in the county where the decedent was a resident or where the decedent had property. For example, if the decedent was in a hospital in Clark County for several weeks and eventually died there, but lived in Lincoln County, the probate proceedings should be initiated in the District Court in Lincoln County which is in Pioche.
If the decedent had a will, an original copy of the will must be filed along with the petition. Filing the petition opens a probate case. The judge will review the will (if any) and the petition. If everything is in order, they will admit the will to probate and formally appoint the personal representative. From that point on, the personal representative must care for the duties and responsibilities required to manage the estate.
- Inventory and appraise assets. The personal representative must locate estate assets and determine the value of the estate. If any money is owed to the estate, the executor must collect it.
- Pay estate debts. The personal representative must also pay debts owed by the estate and expenses of administration. Note that the executor is not required to pay these bills out of their own money, but from estate assets.
- Distribute assets. Once estate debt and expenses are paid, the last step is for the personal representative to distribute assets to beneficiaries or heirs.
Note that the term “probate” was traditionally used to describe the process of proving a will and estate administration or administration are used to describe the process of settling an estate. Nowadays, all three terms are commonly used to describe the administration process. Also, the term “executor” is traditionally used to describe the person named in a will to manage the estate of a decedent. Now, the term “personal representative” is often used to describe the person regardless of whether they were named in the will.
Instead of going through the formal probate process, Nevada offers two options for smaller estates that allow for a quicker settlement of affairs and distribution of assets. One option allows for the transfer of assets without the issuance of letters. If an estate has less than a threshold amount and there is no real estate, 40 days after the death of the decedent, a beneficiary or heir can apply for distribution of assets without the probating of the will or an executor or administrator being appointed. NRS §146.080. To take advantage of this option, an affidavit must be filed with the court that proves entitlement to the assets.
A second option for small estates is summary administration for estates with assets that do not exceed $300,000. NRS §146.040. With summary administration, the estate can be settled and assets distributed in an expedited probate process.
When a person dies without having a valid will in place, their property passes by “intestate succession” to heirs according to Nevada law. NRS §134.040. The law states that everyone’s primary heir is their surviving spouse and children. If the decedent does not have either, then their parents or siblings are entitled to inherit.
Problems During Estate Administration
Probate litigation occurs when disputes during probate cannot be resolved out of court with negotiation. Examples of types of probate disputes that may lead to litigation include:
- Will contests
- Conflicting terms in the will
- Breaches of fiduciary duties
- Estate accountings
- Disputes involving trusts
- Guardianship disputes