Can I administer a small estate by myself, or should I get an attorney?

The West Virginia legislature has made it much easier for a person to administer a small estate without an attorney. If the estate is small (under $100,000) or there is only one beneficiary and there are no outstanding claims, you may be able to settle the estate by yourself.

When the estate is valued under $100,000 but there is more than one beneficiary, an administrator or the executor of the will is appointed. Then the executor must fill out an appraisement which puts a value on all the deceased’s assets. When the administrator turns in the appraisement, the county clerk will put an ad called a Notice of Pending Estate in the local newspaper once a week for two successive weeks. The administrator must send a copy of the notice to the surviving spouse, beneficiaries, trustees, and/or creditors of the person who died. If the surviving spouse, beneficiaries, etc., have claims for payment, they must make them within 30 days of receiving the notice. 60 days after the first ad is published in the local newspaper, if there are no claims for payment filed against the estate, the estate will be deemed settled.

When there is only one beneficiary, regardless of the size of the estate, there is a simplified procedure as well. After the appraisement is filed, the clerk runs a Notice of Unadministered Estate in the newspaper. If after 60 days there are no claims for payment against the estate, the estate is automatically settled. In actuality, there is no administration of the estate in this situation.

Although administration of estates is easier now than it used to be, there is always the possibility that complications may arise. If there are outstanding claims, and a simple administration is not possible, you will want to have the assistance of a lawyer even if the estate is small. In addition, even if there are no complications, it is wise to consult a lawyer to see if it is safe for you to proceed alone.

For more information, see: W. Va. Code §§ 44-2-1 to -29 (2015); W. Va. Code §§ 44-3A-1 to -44 (2015); W. Va. Code § 44-1-14 (2015); W. Va. Code § 44-3A-4a (2015); In re Scott’s Estate, 122 W. Va. 352, 9 S.E.2d 528 (1940); In re Estate of Thacker, 152 W. Va. 455, 164 S.E.2d 301 (1968).