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Estate Administration

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When a person dies, estate administration refers to the process of collecting and managing the estate, paying any debts or taxes, and distributing the remaining property to the heirs. Given how quickly things can become complicated depending on the number of settlors, the legal processes involved with the administration of a trust, and more, it’s important to ensure you have solid legal advice. At The Law Offices of Janis A Carney in San Jose, we are here to make the process of estate administration as smooth as possible. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

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Selling a Residence in a Trust Administration

Estate Administration in San Jose

It’s important to think about how you want your estate administered and who your beneficiaries will be when you pass. Taking care of these details now will spare your loved ones time and frustration in legal proceedings that may occur without a trust in place. At The Law Offices of Janis A Carney in San Jose, we have the experience and knowledge to guide you in this process and to help you make the best decisions for your estate.

Top Rated Local® Estate Planning Attorney

When you’re ready to start your estate administration, please contact our Top Rated Local® estate planning attorney in San Jose. We are here to help you protect your assets and provide for your loved ones. We can assist you with making sure that all of your legal bases are covered so that you can put your mind at rest. Thinking about what will happen with your estate once you are gone may be a bit scary, but we are here to provide the expert legal advice and guidance you deserve. Contact us today.

Trust Administration

Trust administration is the process by which a trust is processed following the death of the settlor, or creator of the trust, to comply with the terms of the trust. The administration must occur when there is a death of a settlor of a trust, even if a trust has two settlors. A surviving spouse settlor also will need to complete the administration of the joint trust with their spouse.

Why Is Any Administration Required With a Trust?

A common misconception is that by having a living trust, no administration is required. It is true that the administration of a trust will typically avoid a court probate proceeding. This does not mean, however, that an administration is not required. In fact, a typical trust must be processed in much the same way a probate estate is processed through the court.

Is Court Action Required?

Trusts are generally drafted and designed to avoid the necessity of having a court administer the trust after the settlor’s death. Occasionally, there are instances where a trust is ambiguous, needs clarification, or the trustee desires court approval of actions taken in the administration. In those situations, a trust administration matter can require court action. The advisability of seeking court approval is best determined with a professional well-versed in trust administration matters.

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What Steps Are Required in a Trust Administration?

  1. The role of the trustee is to marshal and inventory all assets of the trust. This process necessarily involves determining whether there were assets outside the trust which were supposed to be included. Once the inventory is complete, valuations for all assets must be obtained and are used to determine whether a federal estate tax return will need to be filed. Since tax issues vary, they are best addressed by a knowledgeable attorney.
  2. All final debts and expenses of the settlor (decedent) will need to be paid. The trustee must coordinate with the settlor’s probate estate (if there is one) for payment of these expenses. Formal notice may also be given to creditors. The trustee should consult with an attorney to determine if notice is recommended.
  3. The trustee must communicate with the beneficiaries of the trust and with the settlor’s heirs at law regarding the trust. California law requires that the beneficiaries and heirs receive notice regarding the existence of the trust, and all beneficiaries are entitled to be apprised of the administration process. In addition, the trustee must provide annual accountings to the beneficiaries of the financial activity of the trust, unless the trust provides otherwise.
  4. The trustee is also required to distribute the assets of the trust according to the terms of the trust. This may involve transferring the assets outright to the named beneficiaries or may involve holding the assets for some time. The distribution provisions of a trust are as varied as the settlors who create them. Should the distribution provisions be ambiguous or unclear, it is always advisable to consult with a knowledgeable trust administration attorney.
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What if the Trust Was Not Funded?

A trust should be funded by the settlor of the trust when the trust is created through the transfer of title of the settlor’s assets to the trust. In cases where the settlor neglected to transfer the title of his/her assets or where the title to an asset was inadvertently not transferred to the trust, the trustee will need to arrange for the transfer of the assets to the trust. There are different methods to obtain the transfer of those assets to the trust, including declarations and court orders.

How Long Does Trust Administration Take?

For a single settlor trust with only one beneficiary, the administration process can be completed in a few months. For a more complex trust, or for trusts with litigious beneficiaries, the administration process can take as long as, or longer than, the probate proceeding process. The trust administration process can be expedited by a knowledgeable attorney, who can guide the trustee to conclude the administration as quickly as possible.

Estate Administration

Estate administration is the generic term for the administration of a decedent’s estate. Estate administration can encompass one or more simplified procedures, a probate proceeding, and/or a trust administration. In essence, an estate administration (by any method) requires:

  • Determining and valuing the decedent’s assets
  • Determining who is entitled to the decedent’s assets
  • Determining and paying the decedent’s lawful debts and taxes
  • Transferring the decedent’s assets to the proper beneficiary(ies)

Estate administration is considerably more complex in high net worth cases and/or where assets must be liquidated to pay debts and taxes, where there are contested claims against the estate, where the decedent owned land in another state, where the decedent left a dependent minor child or spouse, or where any combination of these and/or other issues exists. Both the estate administrator and the beneficiaries of an estate often need an advisor to help them navigate this complex area to ensure that the administration is done properly and to understand and protect their rights.

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Procedural Situations Involved With Estate Administration

Surviving Spouse/Minor Children

A surviving spouse, and in some cases the decedent’s minor children, have a number of administration options that are not available to other beneficiaries of a decedent’s estate. These options include a spousal property petition, surviving spouse affidavit, declarations to confirm community property title to real property, probate homesteads, and family allowance petitions.

Small Estates

Where a decedent dies with less than $100,000.00 held in his/her sole name (i.e. not in joint tenancy and not in trust), a declaration procedure is available in California to transfer the assets to the heirs or beneficiaries. Specific requirements must be met in order to use the declaration procedure. Generally, an attorney is needed to prepare this declaration properly.

Named Beneficiaries

Insurance policies, annuities, retirement accounts, and some investment accounts usually have one or more persons designated as the beneficiary(ies) of the funds upon the decedent’s death. There may also be death beneficiaries on credit card accounts (credit card balance insurance), fraternal organization or club death benefits, union death benefits, and military death benefits.

To collect the funds, a certified copy of the decedent’s death certificate will need to be provided to the insurance company, bank, etc., and the named beneficiaries will have to sign forms. Unfortunately, this can sometimes be difficult. A company will occasionally refuse to give out information regarding who the beneficiaries are or the amount of the proceeds or will demand “court approval of a distribution” prior to the release of funds. Often an experienced attorney can provide necessary information to the companies, thereby allowing the release of information and the funds without requiring a court order.

Joint Tenancy

Assets held in joint tenancy with “rights of survivorship” (sometimes just labeled “joint tenants”) pass automatically at death to the surviving joint tenant. Frequently, property such as real estate, bank accounts, stocks, bonds, and automobiles is held in joint tenancy, but there must be a written document (such as a deed to real property or a title to a car) showing that joint tenancy exists. However, this does not mean that title to the asset is automatically cleared.

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