If a loved one in your family has died and they did not have a will, you may need to step in to administer the estate. People generally name an executor in their will for this role, but without an estate plan, this job usually falls to the next of kin, such as a spouse or adult child. In order to administer the estate as the next of kin, you will need to obtain letters of administration. In West Virginia and other states, this will allow you to proceed with such tasks as getting the financial affairs of the estate in order and distributing assets.
Usually, when a person has a will, the executor must submit that will to a court to begin the probate process. When there is no named executor, the letters of administration serve this purpose.
Starting the process
The first step to take when a person has died is to get several copies of the death certificate. You will need one specifically to get the letters of administration, but a death certificate is usually required by other entities as well as you wind down the person’s financial affairs. You also need to notify any family members who are likely to be heirs. You need to put together as much information as you can about the person’s assets, but it might be difficult to access this before you have been appointed administrator. You may be able to work with the county clerk to make sure you have the exact documents you need or to find out what to do if you are struggling to get complete information.
Becoming the estate administrator
Once you have submitted the documents, you will need to wait a few weeks to receive the letters of administration. When you get them, you can proceed with your estate administration duties.
Dealing with a loved one’s estate in the absence of an estate plan can feel particularly stressful. However, the process for doing so is explicitly set out in law, and becoming the estate administrator is usually simply a matter of following that process.