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Administration of Small or Insolvent Estates

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By Shannon Laymon-Pecoraro, CELA

Many people do not understand the complexities involved in administering a decedent’s estate. Estate administration can be even more problematic when the estate is relatively small. As a result, one of the first things we assess when meeting with a new client is the size and solvency of the estate.

An estate valued below $50,000 is, by statute, a small estate in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Although the probate of a will is still required, qualification of a personal representative is not necessary. Instead, the successors to the property of the estate may claim property via an affidavit that attests to a certain set of facts, including the value of the property.  The important thing to note is that, although the small estate affidavit should make the administration simpler, the claiming successor(s) of any property has a duty to safeguard and promptly pay or deliver the small asset as required by the laws of the Commonwealth.

The problem associated with the small estate affidavit resolves around the payment of estate assets as required by law. The Virginia Code outlines an order for which debts are to be paid, and a failure to abide by that order could result in personal responsibility for the debt. When an estate, whether small or large, has assets that are insufficient to cover the full extent of the liabilities, then each liability must be properly assessed and if one level of priority cannot be fully paid, then the liability of that priority must be paid pro rata.

A number of clients in recent years have promptly qualified on insolvent estates and started to negotiate payments with vendors, often paying creditors out of the order of priority. Although there were no ill intentions, the personal representative, as a result of the incorrect payments, was held personally responsible for the errors.

Before rushing to the court to qualify as Executor or Administrator, you should meet with someone who can discuss the particular circumstances of the estate. This will not only provide for efficient administration, but can limit your personal liability.

Ask Kit Kat: Squirrels & Bird Cues

Hook Law Center: Kit Kat, what can you tell us about squirrels and how they listen to bird chatter?

Kit Kat: This is such an interesting subject! Squirrels regularly perch outside my kitchen window, and I see them all the time, with their tails in constant, irregular motion. It’s almost as if they are being shocked by some invisible source. Anyway, scientists at Oberlin College in Ohio took an interest in them, and wanted to examine whether or not their behavior could be influenced by certain sounds. Keith A. Tarvin, a biologist at Oberlin, and his students decided to find out in a formal study. Dr. Tarvin says, “I’ve been interested in alarm calls for a while. Even some lizards that don’t make their own vocal sounds eavesdrop on some other animals like birds.”

Their experiment led to classifying squirrels’ behavior as having 6 types foraging, preening, resting, standing, freezing, and fleeing. The latter 3 types—standing, freezing, and fleeing– were subcategorized as vigilance states. By using devices they had designed for the experiment, they played a menu of different recordings at one bird feeder over different times of day. One selection was of a screeching hawk followed by bird chatter, another of a hawk screeching with no bird chatter afterward, one with just bird chatter, and one with background noise but having no bird chatter. The experiment took place in winter when leaves could not obscure the observer’s view over the course of a couple of years.

Results of the data collected reveal some fascinating insights into how squirrels respond to sounds around them. They definitely are more relaxed when not hearing the sound of a screeching hawk, but they relax the most when birds are doing their normal chatter. There is a calming effect to the bird chatter. Other background noises just can’t compete with that of birds. Dr. Tarvin and his assistants conclude that this lends support to the idea that squirrels are smart and clever, but also that bird chatter may be one type of the “public information networks that exist in ecological communities.” How man-made sounds may affect this communication highway is not yet understood. Further study will be needed to shed light on that topic. (James Gorman, “Squirrels Relax When They Hear Birds Relaxing,” (the New York Times (Trilobites), Sept. 4, 2019)

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Posted on Wednesday, September 18th, 2019. Filed under Senior Law News.
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