Clients often ask about the process and costs of opening an estate without a will. Unfortunately, quoting the cost without knowing the circumstances is not possible, so we can only provide an estimate once we know how much legal work will be required.
The amount of assets and manner the assets are held determines what needs to be done. We can determine whether an estate needs to be opened based upon what the decedent’s assets are and how they are held.
Whether an estate should be opened depends on the nature and size of the assets held by the deceased. If the estate is small, then the real property located in Mississippi may be transferred to the heirs at law by a declaration of heirship signed by all interested parties, recognizing everyone’s interest in the property. This is the least expensive alternative. However, if the heirs fail to agree, then an estate must be opened in Mississippi. This is the case in most states.
The goal should be to determine how much is present, gain the cooperation of everyone, and maximize the distribution for all heirs. Cooperation will result in full disclosure and transparency. If, for example, one person or group tries to take charge without consulting the other heirs, that person will be required to answer to the court and the other heirs, bearing the added expenses of a formal inventory and accounting and posting a bond equal to the value of the estate to ensure they act for the heirs. If they don't do that, the court will likely remove them from administering the estate.
If asked to open an estate, whoever served as administrator and the administrator's attorneys represents not the individual heirs, but the interest of all heirs. The estate is the client. It gets more expensive when individuals cannot agree – resulting in court hearings, inventorying and disposing of the assets, and locating individuals to sign the necessary documents.
There is really no mystery to all of this. The job of the administrator is to gather up all assets, pay the decedent’s creditors, identify the decedent’s heirs, and divide the gathered assets equally between the decedent’s heirs. If the assets were intended to be transferred to a named beneficiary, the goal is to ensure that the particular asset goes to the person whom the decedent intended.
After mourning the loss and celebrating the life of the decedent, the steps necessary in conducting the affairs of the decedent’s estate include: 1) identifying all the heirs and obtaining their contact information; 2) obtaining documents reflecting the decedent’s assets and how they are held; 3) notifying all heirs concerning the estate in which they have an interest, attaching those documents, and providing an assessment, inventory and plan; 4) selecting the person who is the most trusted, convenient, and capable of administering the estate and representing the interests of all the heirs.
If we need to open an estate, two administrators may be appropriate to improve the trust factor. We can save the estate expenses if we don't have to send our staff to inventory and account for the assets. If that is needed, a paralegal from our office would do that if there are potential conflicts and trust issues about what the estate consists of and who gets what. In that case, having a good inventory and accounting performed by our staff can save the trouble of multiple arguments and hearings.