The loss of a loved one is a traumatic moment that can be a difficult time for the entire family. Unfortunately, there are arrangements you need to make immediately upon a loved one's death that can cut your grieving time short. The most important legal issue to take care of is finalizing the arrangements for your loved one's estate. This process can be more challenging if your loved one did not have a will of any kind.
A will is a legal document that your loved one would have created with the help of a legal expert and had kept on file. When your loved one passes away, their will provides the family with the information necessary to help the estate to go through probate court. Without a will, the laws of the state would dictate the entire process.
The probate court system is a state-run system that determines the validity of a will, or sets up the legal structure needed to finalize an estate in the event that there is no will. The probate court oversees all of the activities such as satisfying estate debts and distributing proceeds to beneficiaries before finally releasing the estate.
If your loved one did not leave a will, then all you can do is try to offer your services to the state as an estate administrator. The administrator is the one the state directs to use estate assets to satisfy debts. There are no distributions to beneficiaries until all of the estate's debts have been satisfied. The administrator is the one who works with the probate court to use existing assets or liquidate property to create more financial assets that will be used to satisfy debts.
When a loved one dies without a will, the state and its probate court have a process they follow to help get the estate through probate. The laws and process vary from state to state, but in most cases the surviving spouse is named estate administrator. If there is no spouse, then the eldest child is named administrator. If you are a blood relative of the deceased, then you can submit your status to the probate court and be prepared to be the estate administrator if the options of surviving spouse and children are not available.
While the probate court can name a surviving spouse or child as the administrator, that does not mean that those surviving relatives will take the job. Being a estate administrator through the probate process is not easy, and some people will refuse to do it. You can submit yourself as someone who would gladly accept the estate administrator position if it were offered to you.
If your loved one dies without a will, all you can do is offer your services as estate administrator to the probate court and work with the courts on anything it may ask. If you maintain communication with the probate court and respond in a timely manner to any court correspondence, then you could wind up being the estate administrator. If there is no will, it will be the state and the probate courts that will make the rules that you and the family must follow.