The process of distributing and finalising the affairs of a deceased person is called estate administration. This involves settling the debts of the estate and distributing the remaining assets to the beneficiaries named in a Will, or according to the laws of intestacy if somebody dies without leaving a Will. The process of administration may be carried out by the executor named in the Will or, in the case of an intestate estate, an administrator appointed by the court.
The primary responsibility of executors or administrators is to fulfil the terms of a Will or to follow the rules of intestacy. This includes paying any debts of the deceased person and distributing their property to beneficiaries. Estate administration also involves managing any financial and legal issues and dealing with estate disputes if they arise. Facing these challenges can be complex and distressing, especially when mourning the loss of somebody close.
We provide expert legal advice and compassionate guidance across all aspects of estate administration and can assist with as much or as little of the process as you need. We can help with:
- Interpreting the terms of a Will
- Advising executors and trustees concerning their duties and rights
- Notifying government bodies including Centrelink and Veterans Affairs
- Applying for probate or letters of administration in the Supreme Court
- Identifying estate assets and liabilities
- Obtaining valuations of estate property
- Collecting estate financial assets including superannuation, bank funds, shares, outstanding loans, and insurance payouts
- Selling or transferring estate property including real estate
- Paying estate debts – mortgages, funeral costs, and testamentary expenses
- Advising on family and testamentary trusts and administering trust funds
- Managing disputes and contested Wills
- Defending estate litigation in the Supreme Court
- Family mediation and negotiation
Applying for Probate
Before administering an estate, you may need to obtain a grant of probate from the Supreme Court. A grant of probate ‘proves’ the validity of a Will and authorises the executor to deal with the estate assets and distribute them according to the terms of the Will. Not every deceased estate requires a grant of probate. For instance, if the deceased’s only significant asset is residential property owned with someone else as ‘joint tenants’, the surviving owner automatically inherits upon their death.
Letters of Administration
If a person dies intestate, a family member will usually need to apply to the Supreme Court for letters of administration before the estate can be distributed and finalised. This is a different version of probate, where the court authorises someone to carry out the estate administration. While an administrator can assume the same authority as an executor, applying for letters of administration typically adds further stress, delays and costs for the deceased’s family. This complication is just one of the reasons that we recommend that every adult makes a Will and ensures that it is kept secure and up to date.
Sometimes, an executor or administrator will need to deal with issues that are outside their areas of expertise. For example, they may need to consider the order of payment of debts or deal with an estate dispute or testators’ family maintenance claim. We can help you through the legal process, providing advice and guidance so you can carry out your duties and administer the estate as smoothly and efficiently as possible.