Steps to Administer an Estate in Nebraska

December 4, 2023

When you lose a loved one, it may be difficult to determine what you need to do next. The grief associated with losing a loved one can obscure the next steps regarding managing and distributing someone’s assets after they pass away.

Legal Jargon

Before we go through the steps of administering an estate after someone passes, it will help to know what some of the legal jargon surrounding estates and probate means:

  • “Decedent” refers to the individual who is deceased.
  • “Devisee(s)” refers to beneficiaries, people who are named by the Decedent in their will to receive property.
  • “Estate” refers to the property of the Decedent or trust that is subject to probate.
  • “Heirs” means the persons, including the surviving spouse, who are entitled under the Nebraska intestate succession statutes to the property of a decedent.
  • “Intestacy” or “Intestate” refers to the process of distribution by the estate when a Decedent dies without a will.
  • “Personal representative” is the person the court appoints to handle the estate. Other terms include an administrator (appointed by court in an intestate estate) or executor (named in a will).
  • “Probate” can mean two distinct things:
  • Proving the validity of a will or
  • The court process of administering a decedent’s estate.
  • “Real Property” refers to real estate- meaning property, land, buildings, mines and mineral rights, and a few other miscellaneous categories of property connected to the land.
  • “Residence” is where the decedent lived at the time of death, whether s/he considered that place as her/his permanent home or not.
  • “Testacy” or “Testate” refers to the process of distribution of an estate where the Decedent had a valid Will at the time of his/her death.
  • “Will” is a document that allows individuals to designate how their assets are to be distributed after death and to appoint someone to oversee that process.

Step 1: Non-Legal Steps

Many of the steps that need to be taken after someone passes away are not legal ones. These may include the following:

  • Make arrangements with a funeral home – it can be helpful to see if a will or trust exists when tackling this, as many people will make plans in advance and/or set aside some money to cover these expenses in these documents.
  • Contact family and friends of the deceased person to inform them of the individual’s passing.
  • Coordinate the publication of an obituary, if desired.
  • Take an inventory of assets in the Decedent’s safety deposit boxes or safes. This will come in handy later.
  • Contact the Social Security Administration and the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion) to report the Decedent’s passing.
  • Cancel all credit cards in the Decedent’s name.
  • Locate any existing estate plan documents the Decedent had made.

Step 2: Determine if Probate is Needed

  • To determine whether probate is necessary, it is best to contact an attorney. The probate process can be complex, and an experienced attorney can help advise you.
    • The laws of each state will vary regarding probate – some states, including Nebraska and Iowa, have “small estate” statutes that may allow for transfer of assets without a probate proceeding. It is important to talk to a legal professional to determine the best path forward.,
  • In general, probate is necessary when property is passed via will or intestacy.
    • This requires determining whether the Decedent died testate or intestate, whether the Decedent transferred their property before death, and/or whether assets were transferred by other avenues, such as beneficiary designations or through joint tenancy ownership.
    • In Nebraska, the “probate estate” is anything that does not pass to either a joint tenant or a beneficiary automatically – so all property of the Decedent is not necessarily part of their probate estate.
  • Probate will apply to any assets titled in the Decedent’s individual name when they pass away, and typically does not include any of the following:
    • jointly held accounts or property
    • assets that pass by a beneficiary designation such as life insurance, or
    • assets titled in a trust.

Step 3: Open the Probate

The probate is opened by submitting a few documents to the county court where the Decedent was domiciled:

  • The original will of the Decedent (and any codicils), if any;
  • An application of Personal Representative (filed either formally or informally; informal proceedings are most common).
    • The appointment of personal representatives is based on a priority system. That system is as follows:
      • First priority goes to a person nominated in the will.
      • Subsequent priority falls to the surviving spouse, other devisees, other heirs, any creditor.
  • Depending on the circumstances, the following might also need to be filed:
    • A Bond of Personal Representative or Nominal Bond form
    • A List of Interested Persons form
    • The Appointment of Resident Agent form, if the person asking to handle the estate is not a Nebraska resident
    • Consent to Appointment of Personal Representative form (if the person seeking appointment is not of highest priority)
    • Waiver of Bond
    • Waiver of Notice

Step 4: Early Estate Administration

Once the personal representative is appointed, s/he then has several duties (which their attorney can help them with):

  • Publish notice to creditors, and submit an affidavit of providing notice.
  • Complete an inventory of the Decedent’s probate property
    • The inventory needs to be submitted within three months of appointment.
  • Collect and protect the assets of the Decedent.
  • File an Inheritance Tax Determination.
    • The county attorney where any real property is located will need to sign off on the inheritance tax determination worksheet.
  • Collecting and safeguarding the Decedent’s assets
  • Valuing estate assets (as of the date of death)
  • Managing estate assets for the benefit of the estate

Step 5: Pay the Estate Tax & Debts

The estate will pay out any valid debts the Decedent had first, as well as the reasonable costs of estate administration or funeral costs. The inheritance tax will be paid on the estate’s distributions to beneficiaries. Once the tax is paid, a receipt is filed with the court showing the tax satisfaction.

Lastly, the personal representative will need to ensure that they file the Decedent’s final income tax return. This will cover any income the Decedent received from January 1 of the year of passing until the date of death. Any income that comes into a Decedent’s estate or trust will have to be filed on its own separate tax return, which can be done by getting an EIN for the estate or trust.

Step 6: Closing & Estate Distribution

The administrator can then finally distribute the estate assets as set forth by the court in intestacy or by the documents of the estate or trust if the Decedent had an estate plan. It is best practice to have the beneficiaries sign a receipt and release for any estate distributions.

If any help is needed in you or your family’s estate planning, estate administration, or with a guardianship or conservatorship, please reach out to the experienced attorneys in the Estate Planning Group at Hightower Reff Law. We would be happy to help you through this process and ensure that it is pursued diligently and that you receive the highest level of competence and communication throughout.

Estate planning is more than just assets. And it is more than just passing wealth. Estate planning is about family and making sure you are taken care of, no matter your stage in life.

This article should not be construed as legal advice. Situations are unique from one another and it is impossible to provide legal advice for every situation without knowing the individual facts.

If you would like to talk more about estate planning, contact Hightower Reff Law today.

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