In South Carolina estate administration is the legal process of settling the affairs of a decedent. A personal representative appointed by the probate court is responsible for completing the day-to-day activities. The two main goals of estate administration are to pay the debt owed by the decedent and to distribute the decedent’s assets to their beneficiaries and heirs. The first step is to initiate probate by opening the estate.
Initiating Probate in South Carolina
Probate is initiated by filing paperwork with the Probate Court in the county where the decedent was a permanent resident at the time of their death. SC Code § 62-3-201. For example, if the decedent was a resident of Fort Hill, the probate proceeding should be filed in the probate court in York County.
There are two types of probate: formal and informal. With informal probate, the decedent’s will is admitted as valid and no hearing is required. If there are questions regarding the validity of the will due to erasures, markings, or other irregularities, then formal probate with a hearing would be required.
Petition. To initiate the administration process, a Petition for Probate (formal) or Application for Probate (informal) must be filed with the Probate Court along with an original death certificate and the decedent’s original will, if any. There is a filing fee.
Appointment of personal representative. Typically the person seeking to serve as personal representative is the person who files the paperwork to initiate probate. The paperwork also serves as a request for appointment of the personal representative. The person nominated in the decedent’s will to serve as personal representative and the alternate have top priority for the appointment, followed by the surviving spouse, beneficiaries, and creditors. The personal representative may be required to post a bond. Once all paperwork has been filed, fees paid, and bond posted, if required, the court will approve the appointment and issue the personal representative fiduciary letters indicating that they have the legal authority to represent the estate. SC Code § 62-3-103
Notice to beneficiaries and heirs. Those who have an interest in the estate must be notified of the appointment of the personal representative and the opening of the estate. Within 30 days of appointment the personal representative must mail both beneficiaries named in the will and the decedent’s intestate heirs a notice.
Notice to creditors. One of the primary objectives of estate administration is to make sure that the decedent’s debts are paid. The first step in doing this is for the personal representative to notify creditors by publishing a notice in a newspaper once a week for three consecutive weeks. SC Code § 62-3-801. Creditors must file their claims within 8 months of the date of first publication. The newspaper will send to the Probate Court an Affidavit of Publication indicating on which dates the notice was published.
Inventory. The personal representative must identify the assets that are part of the decedent’s probate estate, secure them, and inventory them. Within 90 days of appointment, the personal representative must file an Inventory and Appraisement form with the Probate Court. It must include the value all property owned by the decedent at death. SC Code § 62-3-706. If necessary, the personal representative can seek approval from the Probate Court to hire professional appraisers.
Payment of estate debt. Once the 8-month creditor claim period has elapsed, the personal representative must pay claims. All valid debt and expenses of administration must be paid. If there are not enough assets in the estate to pay everything, then payment is to be made in the following statutory order of priority:
- Funeral expenses and expenses of administration
- Federal debts and taxes
- Medical expenses of decedent’s last illness
- State debts and taxes
- All other claims
Also, while debts or claims may be paid at any time by a Personal Representative, you may incur personal liability if any preferred creditor is damaged or injured by such payment. Claims which are not valid claims may be disallowed through proper procedures.
Final accounting and proposal for distribution. Once debts and expenses have been paid, the last major step in the estate administration process is asset distribution. Between 8 and 12 months after the first publication of the Notice to Creditors the personal representative must file an accounting. The accounting must include details of assets received during the administration process as well as disbursements paid out of the estate. In addition, the personal representative must file a Proposal for Distribution that details how the assets will be distributed. If the decedent left a will, the proposed scheme of distribution should be consistent with the instructions in the will. If the decedent did not leave a valid will, the scheme of distribution should be consistent with South Carolina’s rules of intestate succession. SC Code § 62-2-101 et seq.
Closing of the Estate
Once the two main goals of estate administration are completed, debt payment and asset distribution, the personal representative can file a request with the court to close the estate. The personal representative must submit to the court receipts from beneficiaries as proof of distribution as well as release of claims. Then the court will close the estate and discharge the personal representative.