Friday, October 18, 2019

New estate closing requirement

For those handling estates, the clock is ticking.

A new law which became effective in May 2019 WV Code §44-2-19(a) requires that all estates that have been inactive for three years or more be closed by action of the County Commission.

To handle an estate, a person or financial institution representative must qualify as executor (because the decedent left a valid Last Will and Testament) or administrator (no will is available for the deceased person or there is property not covered by the will). Also, two reports about the assets and debts must be filed with the County Clerk before distributions to heirs can be made.

It turns out that sometimes a will is entered in the county courthouse records and the executor/administrator never completes all of the steps. Unfortunately, that leaves a lot of questions about what happened and can cause property ownership issues at a later time.
The new law will close the estates officially.

Around the state, County Clerks’ offices are working on having inactive estates closed.
Some County Clerks are notifying by letter all of the executors, heirs, and creditors listed in the first estate report, the appraisement, about the potential closure and deadline for further activity.
For those handling an estate that hasn’t been fully resolved and closed and there has been no activity for three years or more, it’s appropriate to find a way to resolve the open matters as soon as possible. Completing the final estate report is required by law to do that.

If an attorney or other person is handling an estate with no activity for at least three years, the new closure law is a way for known or potential heirs to urge the attorney or executor to focus more attention on it.

Many heirs wonder how much information they are to be provided while the estate is open. There is no legal requirement for doing that, but the will and any related documents are placed in the public records at the courthouse and can be viewed by anyone. Some counties also have online records, including wills and estate reports.

Going forward, estates will be subject to the same requirement to be closed by official action if there is no activity for at least three years.

If an estate has been closed, state law allows it to be reopened by the executor or administrator under appropriate circumstances.

Those working in the County Clerk’s office can answer questions about procedures and requirements but may not provide a legal opinion on a specific situation.

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