This is the third in a series of posts on the basics of D.C. probate administration. You can read previous posts in this series including Part I: high-level differences between Virginia and D.C. estate administrations (here), Part II: qualifying to be a D.C. personal representative (here). This post will focus on the initial process of opening the estate in the District of Columbia (D.C.).
To start off, the third part in the Virginia Probate Administration series dealt with the duties and liabilities of the personal representative. However, there is not a meaningful difference between the duties of a D.C. personal representative and a Virginia personal representative to warrant a new post. You can read more about the duties and liabilities of the personal representative by clicking here.
To open and estate and become a personal representative, the petitioner, the person trying to become personal representative, needs to file several documents in the Clerk’s office for the Probate Division. The documents that need to be filed depend on whether the decedent’s estate was a large estate or a small estate. A small estate is one where if the decedent died after April 26, 2001, owned assets of $40,000.00 or less in the decedent’s sole name or only real estate in another jurisdiction. (I will go in to more detail about small estate petitions at a later date.) A large estate is open when the decedent owned assets in the decedent’s sole name in excess of $40,000 or for any value, if medical records are being sought to pursue litigation or litigation is going to arise.
For a large estate, the documents required to open the administration for a decedent that died after July 1, 1995 are:
- The Last Will and Testament (if there is one) and the certification of filing a will form;
- A petition for probate (form);
- An abbreviated probate order (form);
- A Notice of Appointment of Personal Representative, Notice to Creditors and Notice to Unknown Heirs (form);
- Forms related to a Person Representative’s Bond, either:
- A check, money order or credit card to pay Court Costs. Court Costs depend on the size of the estate. The Filing Fee Schedule can be found here.
But, before you can even file the documents with the Clerk’s office for the Probate Division, a petitioner needs to ensure that all of the necessary documents have been submitted and that the filings comply with minimum legal requirements. This means the petitioner needs to meet someone from the Probate Division’s Legal Branch. This step tends to trip up many non-attorney petitioners that just go straight to the Clerk’s office.
A Branch Member will not provide legal advice only ensure all the documents are there. Once, a Branch Member signs off on the petitioner’s documents, the documents can be filed with the Clerk’s office. After the petition is accepted for filing, the petition and any attachments, including a draft order, are transmitted to a judge. A judge will review the documents and issue an order approving the documents or denying the petitioner’s filing.
If judge issues an order approving the petitioner’s filing, the order will state that the will is admitted to probate, appoint the personal representative, determine whether the administration of the estate is to be supervised or unsupervised, approve or waive bond, and order payment of the allowances provided for by law.
A copy of the signed order will be mailed to the personal representative and his or her attorney with letters of administration and a Schedule of Mandatory Filings. The personal representative can now take steps to administer the estate.
Completing the actual petition is one of the more tricky steps for a non-attorney petitioner. Next time, I will discuss those pitfalls including the dreaded standard probate v. abbreviated probate and supervised v. unsupervised decision that seems to throw off many petitioners.