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What is estate administration?

After a person dies, a probate court in Washington appoints a legal representative for the person who died and their estate. The representative, or estate administrator, has numerous duties including the collection of all the decedent's assets, the payment of the deceased's creditors and the distribution of the deceased's remaining property and assets to their heirs and other beneficiaries.

The estate administrator is usually the surviving spouse, another family member, an executor who was identified in the person's will or a lawyer. The probate court will appoint an administrator if the decedent did not identify one in their will.

The court issues letters testamentary which contains authorization for the estate administrator to act on the decedent's behalf. These letters are needed to deal with business and financial issues relating to the estate.

An estate administrator's first duty is to submit an accounting of the decedent's assets and debts to the probate court. This may require an appraisal to determine their worth. The administrator must also verify the estate's debts and file creditor claims against the estate.

Other important estate administration duties include wrapping up business affairs for the decedent. If the estate continues to operate the decedent's business, the administrator also has the important responsibility of obtaining a new employer identification number (EIN) for the business, report its wages and income under the EIN and pay any tax that are owed.

The administrator also has other federal tax responsibilities. The estate must file an income tax return if its assets generated over $600.00 in annual income. For example, any dividend or rental income that the decedent earned when alive becomes taxable income of the estate after death.

The administrator should obtain information to file a file a return for the decedent. An estate tax return is needed for tax on the transfer of assets to their heirs and beneficiaries in larger estates.

An attorney can assist with the drafting of an estate plan that accounts for these issues. Proper preparation and drafting can help prevent disputes among heirs and beneficiaries.

Source: IRS, "Deceased taxpayers-Understanding the general duties of an estate administrator," Accessed May 16, 2017

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