In a nutshell, estate administration is the process of settling a person’s final affairs. It certainly sounds simple enough: pay off outstanding debts, and distribute assets to the correct beneficiaries. Unfortunately, nothing in the law is truly “easy” – though it can be said that well-planned estates are easier to administer than poorly-planned estates.

The preliminary issue in estate administration is determining whether an asset is a “probate” or “non-probate” asset. (Examples of “non-probate” assets include some life insurance policies and trusts.) When assets pass through probate, a drawn-out, court supervised proceeding is necessary.

After your loved one dies, it may take weeks – or even months – to piece together a solid list of property and debts to be settled. However, though estate administration may be a slow process, it is important to avoid delay if you are the trustee, personal representative, or executor. Although it may strike you as distasteful, some beneficiaries grow impatient to receive “their” money days after the funeral. For this reason, you should not wait too long to begin the estate administration process.


Probate is truly one of the law’s greatest cruelties. As though it weren’t bad enough losing a loved one, now you’re forced to endure months of red tape.
Probate is the court-supervised process of settling a person’s final affairs. Because probate is a judicial proceeding, it is both expensive and time-consuming. The only good news in this is that with adequate estate planning, probate should not be necessary.

Some probates take months, while others drag on for years. It all depends on the nature of the facts – and the willingness of the parties to play fairly.


To the extent they avoid any need for probate, trusts usually make things “easier.” That said, trusts sometimes present problems of their own.

The trustee must tread carefully to avoid wasteful litigation, particularly if the trust is complex and has many beneficiaries with competing interests. If the beneficiaries don’t see or understand what’s going on behind the scenes, they’re more likely to grow restless.

By working with a skilled attorney – and doing things the “right” way from day one – you’re less likely to find yourself in dire straits.