Who Can Know About An Estate?

Estate Planning

The loss of a loved one is an intense and stressful situation for everyone. It can often be made worse by being kept in the dark about something you think you should know. When it comes to sorting out an estate plan, the question of who can know about an estate is a stressful question. Unlike a lot of questions though, this one has some clear answers!

Once the estate is open, the first person to know about what is happening should be the fiduciary. Depending on the situation, this will either be an Executor, Administrator, or Trustee. An Administrator is selected by the courts if there is no estate planning done before the passing of the individual. An Executor is nominated by the decedent when drafting a Will. If that person is physically and mentally capable of being the executor and is willing to take the role they will be appointed the executor by the court. A Trustee is chosen to manage and maintain a trust. A person may serve two roles at once, or multiple people may serve these roles depending on the situation. Typically, there is no requirement the court approve the person named as trustee.

No matter what they are called, this person (or these people) are the first to know anything about an estate. They are the ones in charge of working with the courts, financial institutions and attorneys (as needed) to ensure that everything is carried out to the best of their abilities. It is important to note that these duties are taken very seriously by the court system. Ignoring them can land someone in very hot water.

The next people to know about estate matters would be the Beneficiaries. These are people that are named in estate planning documents that are set to receive something within the plan. They will be informed by the court, and usually can request to receive the planning documents to see how they are named.

Even with these permissions, there are some things that are impossible to know. First, is a time frame. Estate administration is tricky and is often very dependent on how proactive the fiduciary is. There are other factors, like unknown creditors or assets that can easily cause a simple matter to spiral out of control (especially for unplanned estates). The second is what, or how much an individual will receive from an estate. Court fees, attorney fees, and financial obligations must be paid out first from estate funds. These answers will come eventually, but will take time. It can take weeks or months to get the needed information from banks and investment companies, and is frequently the longest part of an estate administration.

There is an exception to the above rule, and that’s for Trustees of trusts. In addition to knowing about the estate, they are also able to do a great deal more work without courts or attorneys, being able to shift a great deal of the schedule onto their own shoulders. This is very helpful to loved ones that must work with an estate. Trusts are typically shorter, and cheaper to handle than a Will, as a Trust should skip probate court.

And that’s the short version of who can know about an estate. The person or people in charge are typically the only ones who can (and should) know everything. Beneficiaries will eventually know for sure that they are mentioned, but may not be kept in the loop for moment to moment needs. With that being said, if you suspect someone is acting with ill intent on an estate, you absolutely should speak with another attorney to see if something is wrong. If something feels off, and someone tells you that “you don’t need a lawyer” you may want to take that as a red flag to get a lawyer.

To best help your loved ones that you will leave behind, you may want to consider your own estate planning. Knowing what type of plan is best for you and your family can be hard to figure out, but we are here to help! If you are struggling with an estate, or want to draft your own plan, call us today at 419-352-7522!