When someone dies in New Hampshire, the probate courts typically have authority over the administration of their estate. How the state handles each unique estate varies depending on a number of factors.
The more complex an estate is, the more likely it is that the New Hampshire probate courts will become actively involved in its administration. If you are the executor or administrator of an estate that meets certain criteria, you may be able to ask the courts for summary administration.
If the estate qualifies for summary administration, you can manage most, if not all, of the estate proceedings outside of court, even in some cases if there isn’t a last will on record.
Are there outstanding debts associated with the estate?
The presence of debt in an estate is likely the most common reason for the estate to require probate oversight. An estate with debt outside of a mortgage attached to real property that is part of the estate or other secured debt, such as a vehicle loan, will generally not qualify for summary administration.
Only estates without creditors who can bring claims against the assets of the estate can qualify for summary administration.
Why having the courts involved isn’t always a bad thing
Many people make avoiding probate court the focus of their estate planning strategy or the goal of their administration of an estate. However, the involvement of the probate courts isn’t meant to be an inconvenience. It is meant to protect both the interests of the deceased party and the beneficiaries of their estate.
The involvement of the probate courts can reduce the likelihood of someone complaining about the inappropriate handling of an estate. This can be particularly important in the situation where you think members of the immediate family of the deceased might challenge either the last will itself or your administration of the estate.
Additionally, if there are claims against certain assets in the estate, the probate courts can make a formal and final ruling on those assets, thereby ensuring you don’t incur liability for any decisions about how to handle those contested assets.
For certain estates, particularly small estate with no debts, summary administration may be an option. For other New Hampshire estates, going through the probate courts can be a source of help and conflict resolution.