Written by Avvo Staff

Can you become executor of an estate without a will?

Who handles executor of will duties when there’s no will
Intestacy laws detail how to become an executor without a will. Generally, state laws direct the probate court to appoint a person to administer the estate. Anyone can apply for the position, but certain people (spouse, close family) usually get priority if they want the job. The court-appointed person is usually called either an administrator or a personal representative, instead of an executor.

Who becomes the administrator of an estate with no will?

Intestacy laws vary, but most put family members at the top of the priority list for who should administer the estate. If the top choice isn’t available or doesn’t want the job, the court moves down the list. A priority list might look something like this:
  • Surviving spouse
  • Children
  • Parent
  • Siblings
  • Other next of kin
  • Any legally competent person
Different states may have more or less complicated lists. For example, some include grandchildren in the list, while others skip directly from children to any legally competent person. The final decision rests with the court, which often considers factors like age (must be at least 18), criminal history, and residency when choosing or rejecting an administrator. Many states also allow a surviving spouse who doesn’t want the job to name an administrator in his or her place, bypassing the rest of the list. Some states may also give preference to a person chosen by a majority of the heirs.

Applying to become executor of estate with no will

You generally need to file a written application with the appropriate probate court. Some states may require you to have a lawyer fill out and file your application. If someone has higher priority than you, you may also need to notify them of your application. You don’t need to notify people with lower priority, or anyone who has already waived their right to be administrator.

Administrator/executor of will duties

Your responsibilities as administrator are similar to the executor of will duties. You’ll need to pay off outstanding debts, notify creditors, and make other final decisions for the estate. But when it comes to distributing the remaining assets in the estate, you’ll follow state intestacy laws instead of instructions in a will. States vary in who can inherit an estate without a will, but in general the surviving spouse gets the largest share of an estate, and children divide a smaller portion. Parents may also share in the estate. More distant relatives only inherit if there is no living spouse, child, or parent. The law may also prevent some people from inheriting, even if they normally could. This may include anyone who criminally caused the death, or a parent who abandoned a child. Finally, depending on the size or complexity of the estate, you may need advice from an accountant, estate planning lawyer, or other estate planning professionals.

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