Administration of Your Estate
One of the major goals of estate planning is to ensure that the affairs and assets of the individual forming the plan are dealt with in a satisfactory way after their death. Perhaps the most important part of an effective estate plan is the will; it is this document that helps to ensure that the wishes of the individual are followed.
In cases where a valid will has been left, the estate will enter the probate process unless a trust has been established to avoid this. However, when a will has not been left, or when the will is invalid or unenforceable, administrators must be appointed to deal with the estate. In these cases the individual is said to have died ‘intestate’.
Letters of AdministrationWhen a valid will has been left, executors will have been appointed. These individuals are charged with ensuring that the wishes of the testator (that is, the person who has left the will) are followed. Administrators perform a similar function, in that they have a responsibility to ensure that the estate is disposed of effectively. However, they must carry out this process in accordance with intestacy laws.
Administrators are generally appointed by the District Probate Registry, by way of Letters of Administration. This document grants the holder the right to administrate the affairs of the estate; indeed, it is generally impossible for any action to be taken in this regard until such a grant has been made. The Court will generally grant the powers of administration to a surviving spouse in the first instance.
If no such individual exists then another next of kin will be chosen; if this is not possible then administration of the estate will pass to the Crown. In exceptional circumstances, powers of administration might be given to a creditor or, according to the law, a ‘stranger’.
Once Letters of Administration have been granted, the administrator is responsible for distributing the estate according to the relevant laws. If there is a surviving spouse then all assets will pass to them, unless there are also children, grandchildren or surviving parents, in which case the assets will be shared. If there is no surviving spouse, however, then assets will be distributed in the following order of priority: to children or grandchildren; to parents; brothers and sisters (with priority given to those with whom the deceased shared two parents); grandparents; aunts and uncles; and finally to the Crown.
Clearly, there are instances in which individuals would prefer that their estates are not dealt with according to intestacy laws. This is particularly true of people without relatives; many people in these circumstances would prefer for their assets to pass to charity, for example, rather than to the Crown. Furthermore, it may also be the case that the intestate individual had wished to disinherit certain members of their family. Without a will this is impossible, unless someone with higher priority under intestacy laws survives.
Avoiding intestacy proceedings is the most basic goal of estate planning. The most basic way of avoiding this is the drafting of a valid and effective will. Aside from this, however, creative use of trusts and other devices can help to ensure that your affairs are dealt with according to your wishes and not those of the state.