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What does an estate administrator do?

Under Texas law, people can become administrator of an estate through several ways. Perhaps the most familiar is a situation in which an executor is appointed in the text of the will. In other cases, the court must appoint an administrator. In most of these court-appointed cases, the heirs must agree to the choice of administrator.

An administrator doesn't have to be a lawyer. Technically, the only people who can't be administrators are the incapacitated, felons, nonresidents of Texas, corporations that don't have a Texas agent. Courts can also deem a person unsuitable under other circumstances. Still, the administrator has a legal duty to work in the interest of beneficiaries and creditors. This could potentially make the administrator liable if they behave negligently.

After being qualified by the court, the administrator takes possession of the deceased's property, pays debts, including any taxes, and distributes remaining assets to the heirs and beneficiaries. If there is a will, it directs the administrator on how to distribute the assets. If there is no will, the court determines who the heirs are, and the administrator distributes the estate accordingly.

Typically, the administrator has three years to distribute any remaining assets to the heirs. The estate is only formally closed once all debts have been settled. This may take longer than three years in some cases.

The work involved in estate administration can be technically challenging, and there are many deadlines and potential roadblocks along the way. For these and other reasons, administrators often hire a lawyer with experience in estate administration and probate. A lawyer can give advice, help with details and deadlines and resolve disputes if they arise.

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