Estate administration is the legal process of settling the affairs of a decedent. In Vermont the probate division of the Superior Court system has jurisdiction over probate matters. 4 V.S.A. § 311a. During estate administration the will, if any, is validated, the decedent’s debts are paid, and the decedent’s assets are distributed.
Steps in Estate Administration in Vermont
While the probate court oversees probate matters, the personal representative is responsible for completing or managing the day-to-day activities required to settle the decedent’s estate. These activities include the following:
- Filing of a petition with the proper probate court. To initiate the probate process, the first step is for a petition to be file din the probate division of the Superior Court in the jurisdiction in which the decedent was a resident at the time of their death. If the decedent left a will, typically the person who filed the petition is the person nominated in the will to serve as the personal representative or executor. The nominated executor must be filed within 30 days of leaning of the death of the decedent or within 30 days of earning that they were named executor. 14 V.S.A. § 104.
- Notice to beneficiaries and heirs. Within 30 days after the will has been admitted to probate, beneficiaries must be sent a written notice. If there is no will, then statutory heirs under Vermont’s laws of intestate succession must receive written notice. 14 V.S.A. § 111
- Appointment of personal representative. Before the personal representative can act on behalf of the estate, they must first petition the court and the court must approve the petition. This is the case even if the executor (personal representative) is named in the will by the decedent. The personal representative may be required to post a bond.
- Inventory and appraisal of estate assets. The personal representative is required to take control of estate assets. Within 30 days after appointment, the personal representative must file an inventory of estate property with the probate division. The inventory must include the value of the property as of the date the decedent died. 14 V.S.A. § 1051.
Note that the personal representative only manages probate property. Probate property includes property owned solely by the decedent at the time of their death, but does not include property which passes to another person by operation of law or by contract. For example, property held jointly with rights or survivorship passes to the surviving joint owner by operation of law outside of the probate process. Similarly, proceeds of insurance policies pass to the person named as the beneficiary in the policy. Likewise, IRAs, pension plans, and annuities pass to the named beneficiary and are not part of the probate estate.
- Payment of estate debt to rightful creditors. Before the personal representative can distribute assets, estate debt must be paid. A notice to creditors must be published. Creditors must file claims within 4 months of the date the notice is published. The personal representative is required to pay all valid, timely filed claims to the extent there are assets in the estate to do so. 14 V.S.A. § 1207
- Final distribution of assets. Once debts are paid, the personal representative must file with the court an accounting which details all income that was brought into the estate and the debts and expenses that were paid out of the estate during the administration process. After approving the accounting, the court will issue a decree allowing the personal representative to distribute the remaining assets to the estate beneficiaries according to the terms of the will. If there is no will, then the personal representative must distribute assets based on the Vermont’s law of intestate succession. 14 V.S.A. § 301 et seq.
In Vermont, estate administration generally takes about 6-12 months. However, probate disputes and other factors can extend the process. There are also options for expedited administration for small estates. 14 V.S.A. § 1901