1. My family member just passed away, what is the first thing I should do?

There are several things you should do when a loved one dies.  Included with this email is an informational outline of the steps to take over the weeks following the death of a loved one.

2. How do I open a probate case?

Collect all the important documents (original version of the will, death certificate and documentation for each asset), complete the appropriate probate petition with original signatures and submit to the court.

3. How long does a probate case last?

The duration of the case depends on the complexity and type of administration.  A small simple estate can be completed in 3-4 months.  A large complex estate can go on for years.  A typical estate is usually resolved in 10-18 months.

4. My [insert family member] may oppose my petition, what are my rights? 

The three classes of people with highest priority to be appointed are as follows, in order: (1) the person named in the will, (2) the surviving spouse, and (3) adult children.  All adult children have equal priority to be appointed unless one or more is named in the will.

5. What should I do about the outstanding bills?

Notify the creditors that the debtor has passed away.  Debts should be paid from the funds of the estate.  Family members may consider paying secured debts to avoid foreclosure or repossession and seek reimbursement from the estate.

6. What if the estate does not have enough money to pay all the bills?

The personal representative shall make payment in the following order if the assets of the estate are insufficient to pay all claims in full.

a) Court costs, publication costs, and bond premium; 

b) Funeral expenses not exceeding $1500; 

c) Fiduciary and attorney's fees not exceeding $1,000;

d) The homestead and family allowance; 

e) The exempt property allowance; 

f) Reasonable medical, hospital, and nursing expenses of the last illness of the decedent; 

g) Claims for rent in arrears for which an attachment may be levied by law

h) Judgments and decrees of any Court in the District of Columbia; and 

i) All other claims

7. What do I do about property they owned in another state?

If the decedent owned real property in another state, an ancillary probate administration must be opened in the state where the property is located.  Typically, this will require you to be appointed in the decedent's home state first.

8. Who is responsible for the funeral bills?

The estate is responsible for funeral expenses. However, in practice, funeral homes require someone to personally guarantee the costs.  Anyone who pays for the funeral expenses assumes the priority of a creditor and is entitled to be reimbursed from the estate. The law allows payment of more than $1,500.00 (1) if an estate is solvent and a will allows the personal representative to pay amounts in his or her discretion, (2) when a court allows amounts in excess of $1,500.00 but no more than $5,000.00, or (3) when the estate is solvent and all heirs or legatees waive the funeral expense limit in writing and the waivers are filed with the Court. 

9. How much does it cost to open a probate case?

The fees vary with the value of the estate.  Court fees are due when you file your petition.  If the value of the estate changes, you may owe additional costs or be entitled to a refund.

Value of Probate Estate 

Court Costs

Less than $500

No Cost 

$500.01 to $2,500

$15

$2,500.01 up to $15,000 

$50

$15,000.01 up to $25,000 

$100

$25,000.01 but less than $50,000

$150

$50,000 but less than $75,000 

$250 

$75,000 but less than $100,000

$350 

$100,000 but less than $500,000

$575 

$500,000 but less than $750,000

$825

$750,000 but less than $1,000,000 

$1,275

$1,000,000 but less than $2,500,000 

$1,800 

$2,500,000 but less than $5,000,000

$2,300

$5,000,000 and over

$2,300 plus 0.02% of excess over $5,000,000 

Add $25.00 when real property, of whatever value is included in the probate asset