Estate Administration for Small Estates: Simplifying the Process

February 21, 2023
Erin Calpin, Esq.

Estate administration can be complex and time-consuming, even with a small estate. Fortunately, there are ways to simplify the process and make your estate administration more manageable. Today’s blog discusses estate administration for small estates and how to make it more straightforward and efficient. We'll also review some practical steps you can take to help streamline the process.

What Is Estate Administration?

Estate administration is the process of settling an individual's estate after death. It involves organizing, gathering, and evaluating the deceased’s assets and distributing them according to the will's instructions or, if there is no will, according to state laws of intestacy.

The administrator (or the executor) ensures that creditors are paid, and heirs receive their shares of the estate. Estate administration can be complex, but it can be made simpler with the right guidance.

When a person passes away, the estate must be administered according to the decedent’s last wishes. This typically involves gathering all the assets, paying off debts, and then distributing the assets as expressed in the decedent’s Will. In some cases, this may involve getting a court order or obtaining probate of a will. If there is no will, the state’s intestacy laws come into play.

The Duties of the Administrator

The estate administration process can vary greatly depending on the size and complexity of the estate. Generally speaking, the administrator’s responsibilities include the following:

  • Gathering and accounting for the assets
  • Paying debts and taxes
  • Managing the estate
  • Filing court documents
  • Preparing financial records
  • Keeping the beneficiaries or heirs informed
  • Distributing the assets according to the terms of the will or state law.

Estate administration may seem daunting, but it can be simplified with careful planning and attention to detail. An experienced attorney can provide invaluable guidance during this process and ensure that everything is handled correctly and efficiently.

More on the Duties of the Administrator

The applicable state probate laws typically sets out an administrator’s duties. As a rule, the executor or administrator (the fiduciary) is responsible for managing and distributing the deceased’s assets according to the decedent’s wishes. To do this, the fiduciary must collect all relevant information about the estate, including any assets, debts, and liabilities, as well as details about the heirs or beneficiaries. Additional duties include the following:  

  • Pay all debts from the estate and file any necessary paperwork. Additionally, if necessary, the fiduciary must file taxes on behalf of the deceased. In some cases, the fiduciary may need to arrange a court hearing to obtain a court order approving the distribution of assets.
  • Keep detailed records of all transactions related to the estate and provide regular updates to the court and heirs or beneficiaries. It’s important to note that the fiduciary must follow all applicable laws and regulations when administering the estate.
  • Make final distributions to the heirs or beneficiaries and close the estate. Depending on the complexity of the estate, it can take months or even years to complete all the necessary tasks.

Who Can Administer an Estate?

The following persons can legally administer an estate, whether selected by the deceased or appointed by the local probate court:

  • The deceased’s spouse or partner: This individual is usually the first choice for administering an estate due to the close relationship to the deceased.
  • An executor: If the deceased left a will and named an executor, that person will be responsible for administering the estate, once qualified by the surrogate.
  • A relative of the deceased: In some cases, a relative may be chosen to act as administrator of the estate if the deceased did not have a will or name an executor.
  • A public official: If the deceased died intestate (without leaving a will), and there are no relatives willing to serve, the state might appoint someone, such as a public official, to administer the estate. A professional administrator: A professional administrator or probate attorney may be appointed to administer an estate if the deceased did not leave a will or if the designated executor is unable or unwilling or unable to undertake the duties of an executor.

Remember, if an executor isn't designated in the deceased's will, the local probate court will appoint someone to be an administrator, who may or may not have been the deceased’s preferred choice.

Simplifying the Administration Process for Small Estates

The first step in simplifying the process is to create a plan of action. Create a list of tasks that need to be completed and prioritize them. This will help you stay organized and focused throughout the process.

Second, you should seek the help of an experienced estate planning attorney, who can provide valuable guidance on how best to manage your affairs and advise you on any tax implications of your estate. Having an experienced professional by your side during this process can make a world of difference.

Third, familiarize yourself with estate administration laws and regulations. Make sure you understand the local laws and procedures surrounding your estate. It is vital to understand how probate works, what happens when someone passes away, and other regulations that may be relevant to your situation.

Finally, be patient and organized. Estate administration is a complex process, but following these steps and staying organized can make everything much easier. Additionally, having patience and understanding that this is a lengthy process is key to making it as stress-free as possible.

More Tips and Step-by-Step Advice for Small Estate Administration

Some more essential tips and direction to use and simplify the estate administration process include the following.

  • Make sure to get the decedent’s most recent will. This is important because the will contains the deceased’s instructions on dividing the estate and additional instructions for the executor. You will need the original Will for probate.
  • Research state law related to estate administration. States have different laws, so it’s important to understand how your state’s laws may affect the process.  A qualified estate attorney can make this process easy for you.
  • Notify relevant parties and agencies about the death. This includes family members, creditors, banks, insurance companies, etc. It’s also vital to inform the IRS and state taxing authorities about the death and to pay any inheritance or estate taxes that may    be required.
  • Take inventory of the deceased’s assets. Create a list of all assets owned by the deceased and    determine the date of death value of each asset.
  • File a petition in probate court. This is necessary to start the probate process, which is required to transfer ownership of the estate to the heirs or beneficiaries.
  • Pay outstanding debts and taxes. As the executor, you’ll need to ensure all debts and taxes the deceased owes are paid before distributing any assets to heirs or beneficiaries.
  • Prepare a final accounting of all estate expenses and payments. Once all assets have been collected and debts and expenses have been paid, prepare a final accounting of all payments made during the probate process and provide it to the beneficiaries, or to the probate court if required, for approval.
  • Distribute assets according to the will. Once your accounting has been approved, you’ll be able to transfer ownership of assets to the beneficiaries as stated in the will.

Following these steps can help ensure everything is done correctly and that all assets are distributed according to the deceased's wishes.

Simplify the Estate Administration Process With Help From BMC Estate Planning

Anticipating or currently planning estate administration in New Jersey? Let our experienced estate administration attorneys help you get the job done the right way, the first time.


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Borenstein, McConnell & Calpin, P.C. is a Wills & Estate Planning law firm serving Central and Northern New Jersey, as well as New York City. We strive not only to give you a great client experience, but to become your trusted adviser for life. To reach Alec, please send an email to

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