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Kevin O'Flaherty

What happens when a ward dies? This critical question triggers a sequence of legal actions for guardians and estate administrators alike. For thirty days, the guardian acts as an administrator, managing the ward's estate and preparing a final accounting for court approval to end their guardianship. Our straightforward guide demystifies the post-death process, from the termination of guardianship to estate handling without legal jargon. Whether you’re a guardian or a concerned party, this article provides the essential steps to ensure a respectful and law-abiding resolution.

Guardian's Role After Ward's Death

Guardian's Role After Ward's Death

A ward’s death typically signifies the end of a ward’s guardian role, indicating a shift in responsibilities. However, the transition is not abrupt. The guardian retains the powers and duties of an administrator for thirty days, ensuring the ward’s estate is handled appropriately. During this period, the guardian is tasked with preparing a final accounting of the ward’s estate to gain court approval and be relieved of their guardianship duties.

This process may differ from state to state, evident in Hunterdon County, New Jersey, where guardians are exempted from submitting a final accounting if the ward was on Medicaid.

Notifying Relevant Parties

The death of a ward signifies the end of guardianship, and the guardian must officially notify the court about the deceased ward by submitting the ward’s death certificate. This is typically done by filing a petition, which serves to inform the court about the ward’s death and request the formal closure of the guardianship case.

Not only the court needs to be informed. The guardian is also obliged to notify the county surrogate in writing, providing a copy of the ward’s death certificate. This action is pivotal, marking the official termination of the guardianship.

Filing Required Documents

To formally close the guardianship and address the final aspects of the ward’s estate, the guardian must file specific documents with the court. These include the Report of Death of Ward & Petition for Termination of Guardianship & Approval of Final Account.

Each of these documents serves a specific purpose:

  1. The Report of Death provides official notice to the court of the ward’s death.
  2. The Petition for Termination of Guardianship formally requests the end of the guardian’s responsibilities.
  3. The Approval of Final Account deals with the review and settlement of the guardian’s financial management during the guardianship.

Following the completion of the guardian’s duties, the focus shifts to the administration of the deceased ward’s estate. This task falls to a personal representative, who is usually designated in the ward’s will or appointed by the court if no will is present. Their responsibilities are manifold and include:

  • Managing and securing estate property
  • Settling debts and expenses
  • Handling tax liabilities
  • Filing tax returns

The distribution of the ward’s probate property follows the instructions of their will or, in the absence of a will, adheres to state intestacy laws. This ensures that the ward’s wishes are res

What does an administrator to collect do?

The administrator to collect has power to sue for and collect the personal estate and debts due the deceased ward. An administrator to collect may file suit on behalf of the deceased ward’s estate. In addition, the administrator to collect has authority over sales, mortgages, and leasing of real and personal property. The guardian does not have to get a court order to act as administrator to collect. The administrator acts in that capacity until discharged by a court. Usually, the administrator to collect is discharged when probate court issues letters testamentary or letters of administration.

Does a guardian need to file a petition for letters of administration to collect in probate court?

A petition for letters of administration to collect may be filed by a guardian or a court may issue them without a petition being filed. The court issues letters of administration to collect without a petition being filed when there is a risk that delay could cause waste, loss, or embezzlement of the estate. If thirty days have passed since the death of the ward, or if the court has directed the guardian to do so, the guardian should petition in probate court for letters testamentary or of administration.

What are letters testamentary and letters of administration?

Letters testamentary are issued when the ward had a will and the guardian was named in the will as an executor. The guardian then files a petition for the court to accept the will and name the guardian as executor. Letters of administration are issued when the ward did not have a will, but the guardian files a petition with the court to open an estate for the deceased ward and name the guardian as administrator. On the issuance of letters testamentary or of administration by a court, the powers of an administrator to collect end.

What if another party files a petition for letters testamentary or of administration?

Sometimes someone else will file a petition for letters testamentary or letters of administration. If another party has a petition pending before that court, the court has to hear the other person’s petition first. The court may grant or deny the other person’s petition. If letters testamentary or of administration have already been issued to another party before the guardian files a petition in probate court, letters may not be issued to the guardian. The person who was already appointed by the judge will remain as executor or administrator.

If you have additional questions about how a guardian administers a deceased ward’s estate, or need the help of an experienced probate and estate administration attorney, give us a call at 630-324-6666.

Frequently Asked Questions

What powers do guardians have?

A guardian with full authority has the power to make important decisions on behalf of their ward.

Is a conservatorship valid after death?

No, a conservatorship is not valid after death. As a conservator, your powers end on the date of death. However, you may need court approval to pay for funeral or burial expenses if they were not prepaid.

Do legal guardians receive money from the state of California?

Legal guardians in California can receive financial support through programs such as SSI, Medi-Cal, and Kin-GAP, depending on the specific circumstances and the child's needs. Kin-GAP is a cash aid program in California that supports eligible relative caregivers who become legal guardians.

What are the disadvantages of legal guardianship?

The most significant disadvantage of legal guardianship is the loss of autonomy for the ward, as the guardian makes decisions on behalf of the ward, potentially leading to a lack of control over their own lives.

What happens when a ward of the state dies?

When a ward of the state dies, the guardian's role usually ends, but they retain temporary administration powers for 30 days and must file required documents with the court. This process is important to wrap up the affairs of the deceased ward.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Each individual's legal needs are unique, and these materials may not be applicable to your legal situation. Always seek the advice of a competent attorney with any questions you may have regarding a legal issue. Do not disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.

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