After a person dies, all their remaining assets and debts become known as their estate. If the deceased left behind a will, the will provides instructions on who should receive the person’s property, and it will probably appoint a personal representative who is to be in charge of settling the affairs of the deceased. However, it will probably not tell the personal representative how to do it.
Settling an estate can be a difficult task. There is property to collect, taxes and debts to be paid, heirs to be tracked down, and many other tasks to be done. A personal representative who has no training in law or business may feel overwhelmed. For this and other reasons, many people in this position seek out help from a professional who has experience in estate administration. This person can offer advice or serve in a more active, fiduciary role.
Kentucky probate law recognizes several types of fiduciaries, people who are entrusted with property belonging to another, and who have a legal duty to take care of the property in good faith.
An executor is, like a personal representative, appointed by a will. The executor has the power to handle the financial affairs of the estate. The text of the will itself dictates who will serve in this role. In some cases, the personal representative and the executor are the same person.
If the person died without leaving a valid will, a court may appoint another type of fiduciary known as an administrator. Essentially, the administrator does the work of settling the estate and tracking down the heirs as dictated by Kentucky’s laws of intestate succession.
There are two other types of fiduciaries recognized under Kentucky probate law. One is a guardian, who is a person appointed to manage assets owned by a minor. This may be important in cases where a single parent dies, leaving behind a minor child. It can also be important in cases where a deceased person leaves assets directly to a minor such as a niece or nephew, rather than to the minor’s parents.
Similarly, a curator is a person who is chosen to handle the finances of another adult who no longer feels capable of handling finances. A curator can be chosen in advance through the estate planning process, or through a legal process once the vulnerable adult begins to feel it is necessary.
Fiduciaries are entitled to reasonable compensation for the work they do in settling an estate, but the court, but a court has final say over what counts as “reasonable.” Fiduciaries must be accountable to the probate court. They must file regular reports with the court, and the court reviews their work to make sure it has been managed correctly. In addition, they must sign a bond with the court and provide a surety. Usually, this means they must get an insurance company or other party to co-sign their bond.
In this blog post, we have not gone into any detail about the work a fiduciary has to do when administering an estate. Still, after reading the preceding paragraphs, you may be starting to see why many personal representatives seek out help from an estate administration attorney. An experienced professional can be an invaluable help during a difficult time.