New Law Simplifies Probate Process

It is always difficult when a family loses a loved one. A new law provides a measure of relief by easing the probate process. Most people are aware of the need to have a will, to specify where they want their property to go when they die. Young families can also nominate a guardian for minor children in a will, should both parents die leaving children under the age of 18. Having a will is good, but it is not effective to actually pass property until it is filed with the Probate Court and an administrator or executor is appointed. Then, it is the administrator or executor that takes care of safeguarding all the property, receiving creditors’ claims and reviewing all bills owed by the decedent. The administrator or executor is charged with paying all valid claims and, when the time for creditors to make claims has passed, distributing all the assets. In New Hampshire, the Probate Court oversees this process in most cases. It requires an inventory of the property and appraisals of the assets, and, in most cases the executor or administrator must be bonded, all of which takes time and costs money. Accounts must be filed and the process generally takes over a year.

It is possible for most of the Court requirements (the inventory, the bond and the accounting of assets) to be waived if (1) a person dies leaving a surviving spouse or an only child; (2) the spouse or only child is left everything in the will, if there is one; and (3) the spouse or only child is appointed as administrator or executor of the estate. This process, known as “waiver of administration,” greatly simplifies the process of handling a loved one’s estate. The executor or administrator must still marshal all the assets, pay all valid claims and distribute the property, but it is done without obtaining a bond, preparing an inventory with appraisals or preparing an accounting. The administration is complete upon the filing of a simple affidavit by the executor or administrator within six months of appointment, (1) stating that, to the best of the executor or administrator’s belief, all the debts and obligations of the deceased have been paid, and (2) listing the real estate owned by the decedent at the time of death.

With a change in the law to go into effect January 1, 2014, the simplified “waiver of administration” will be available in more situations: (1) when a person dies leaving only a parent or parents (no spouse or children); the parent or parents is/are the sole beneficiary/ies if there is a will or the sole heirs if there is not, and the parent or parents are appointed as executors or administrators; (2) when a person dies with a will and a trust created by the decedent is named as the sole beneficiary, and the trustee of the trust either (a) is appointed to serve as executor or administrator, or (b) assents to another person serving as executor or administrator. This will enable many more families to take advantage of this simplified process.

Even in situations in which “waiver of administration” is not available, the Legislature simplified the “regular” probate process by eliminating the need for appraisals of property in all cases. It still may be appropriate in some estates to obtain appraisals, so that heirs know the date-of-death values of assets, but it is no longer required in all situations. This will simply the steps needed and reduce the costs of administering decedents’ estates.

The full text of the new laws can be found in 2013 Laws of New Hampshire, Chapter 67; modifying RSA553:32 and 554:1: