It’s hard enough when someone you love dies unexpectedly, but when they die without a will and their estate includes real property and significant debt, you are facing a double burden. According to a post on nj.com, “Who is responsible if dad dies with no will?” things can get complicated, but an estate planning attorney at Cottrell & Jacobs can help. This following provides an example, but it by no means covers every kind of situation like this.
Had there been a will, the court would appoint a person to be an executor. However, in the absence of a will, the court will appoint an administrator.
Bonds are typically waived for executors, but many times administrators must post a bond. The bond amount is derived from the value of the estate. If you’re appointed as an executor (or as an administrator of your father’s estate), it doesn’t make you personally responsible for any of his unpaid debts or obligations. You can’t be forced to take on the burdens of administration of an estate, merely because you are an heir.
However, once you agree to serve and you’re appointed as an executor or an administrator by the court, you can’t just change your mind and walk away. You’ll need to have the court’s okay to resign, and then a successor fiduciary would need to be appointed.
When there’s real estate involved and you are an heir of the estate, when the foreclosure of the mortgage is started, the heirs will likely be named in the proceedings—regardless of whether you’re an executor or an administrator. But you don’t necessarily have to respond to the pleadings.
If no family member is willing to serve as a fiduciary to administer the father's estate, and with assets in the estate to be administered and debts to be paid, the court most likely would appoint an attorney to serve in that capacity. In New Jersey, the statute says creditors can also apply for the job. The administrator is paid from the sale of the assets.
In this kind of situation, if the father was single at the time of death, had only three children and no will, each sibling would be entitled to a third of the estate. They would all be eligible to be appointed and act jointly as administrators of the estate, with no impact on their share of the inheritance.
Without a will, court costs and other expenses add up quickly. A qualified estate planning attorney can create a will and other important legal documents that will avoid the stress and costs to loved ones.
Reference: nj.com (February 23, 2017) “Who is responsible if dad dies with no will?”