Estate administration is the legal process of settling the estate of someone who has passed away. In Utah, District Courts have jurisdiction over estate proceedings. To start the process, a petition must be submitted to the District Court in the county in which the decedent lived at the time of death. Utah Code Ann. § 75-3-201. For example, if the decedent was a resident of Provo at the time of their death, the petition must be filed at the American Fork District Court. While there are several steps in the estate administration process, the two main goals are to resolve the decedent’s debt and to transfer title of the decedent’s property to other people as directed in the decedent’s will or as directed by state law.
Personal Representative in Utah
The job of the personal representative is to take the steps that are required to close the estate of a decedent. This is often described as carrying out the final wishes of the decedent as described in their will. This is partially accurate. If the decedent left a will, the job of the personal representative is to follow the provisions of the will regarding how to manage and distribute the property. However, their job goes beyond that. Whether or not the decedent left a will, the personal representative must follow the laws of Utah and the rules of the District Court related to caring for the decedent’s property, paying debt, and disbursing assets. Their generally duties are as follows:
Inventorying and appraising probate assets. One of the first jobs of the personal representative is collect and to take control over estate assets. Once the personal representative receives the testamentary letters, they are considered the “owner” of the decedent’s property and has have the right to take control over the assets. They must also manage and secure the assets and determine its value as of the date of the decedent’s death.
The personal representative must also create an inventory and provide it to interested parties who request it.
Pay estate debts, expenses, and taxes. One of the primary goals of the administration process if is to ensure that the decedent’s debts are paid. The court gives claimants a specific time frame to file claims against the estate and claimants are notified through publication. The personal representative must evaluate each claim that is filed and pay those that are timely filed and valid to the extent there are assets in the estate to do so.
In addition, the personal representative is authorized to pay from estate assets reasonable and necessary expenses related to care, management, and settlement of the estate. Furthermore, the personal representative must file appropriate tax returns for the decedent and for the estate, and pay outstanding taxes, if any.
Closing the estate. After claims, expenses, and taxes have been paid or otherwise resolved, the personal representative must prepare a final accounting as well as a petition for final judgment. The accounting must include details of the activities that the personal representative completed during the administration process. A hearing will be held. If the court is satisfied with the accounting and that the estate is ready to be closed, it will sign an order of final judgment which will detail how the assets must be distributed.
Distributing estate assets. Property distribution marks the final major step in the administration process. Once property is distributed, the estate is typically in the condition to be closed. The court will not authorize asset distribution until the personal representative petitions the court to do so and submits a final accounting.
Upon court approval, property will be distributed as provided in the will. This may be as simple as transferring title to all assets to one beneficiary such as the decedent’s spouse. Or it may be as complicated as distributing a variety of different assets to a list of several different beneficiaries. In the case of an intestate estate, Utah law governs who gets what. The standard is that the person or persons who are by law the decedent’s “next of kin” would be entitled to receive all of the decedent’s property. Utah Code Ann. § 75-2-101
If disagreements develop between any of the parties they court must resolve them before the process can continue to move forward. Common estate administration disputes include:
- Disputes over whether the will is valid
- Disputes over how to interpret provisions in the will
- Disputes over who is to serve as the guardian to minor children
- Disputes over the details of the final accounting
- Disputes over who is entitled to inherit property in intestate estates
- Disputes over the amount of the spouse’s elective share
- Disputes over how a fiduciary did their job
Any type of probate dispute can cause a delay in the process, increase expenses, or have some other significant impact on the process.