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There are two main reasons to petition the Court to have a Special Administrator appointed. The first, and most common is that it is not known what assets need to be probated and it is necessary to have someone with court appointed authority to ask various institutions about the Decedent's assets. The second is that there is a need to get someone appointed right away to protect assets. Less commonly, a Special Administrator can be appointed if the already appointed Personal Representative dies, unexpectedly resigns, or is removed by the Court and there is a need to have someone immediately take over.
Determining What the Assets Are:
The following is often a very frustrating situation for the heirs: A relative dies owning, say a Wells Fargo bank account. If the heirs have access online to the account or to the Decedent's mail, they can get a statement, see how much money is in the account and with a probate attorney select the proper probate procedure to handle the estate. See Probate But, if the heirs cannot get access to the bank statement they will find that Wells Fargo will tell them, "Sorry, we can't give you that information without a court order appointing you a personal representative of the estate." (There is one exception. If the heir thinks he or she might be named as a payable on death beneficiary on the account they can present the bank with a certified copy of the death certificate and demand the account proceeds. The bank should give it to them if they are in fact the payable on death beneficiary.)
So, the heir tells the probate lawyer that Decedent had an account at Wells Fargo but they don't know the size of the account. So, unless the heir and the attorney decide to do the lengthiest and most expensive probate procedure, that for estates over $200,000, they can't ask the court to do a simpler, cheaper probate proceeding without telling the court how much is in the bank account. The Court will not accept their estimate. (In our experience the Clark County Court is very adamant about wanting documented proof of the amount in the bank account such as a bank account statement. Other County Courts in Nevada may be more willing to accept estimates.) The solution then is for the heir and their attorney to petition the Court to appoint the heir as Special Administrator. In this case, the only authority the Special Administrator will have is to demand that the bank divulge the account information. After this is done the heir and attorney can Petition to Terminate the Special Administration and convert the procedure into the proper probate procedure which would be either a Set Aside Without Administration, a Summary Administration or a General Administration.
Suppose a person who is the sole proprietor of a business dies. Let's say the business is worth over $200,000 which will ultimately require a General Administration Probate. Someone has to step in to keep the business running so it doesn't die while going through the probate process. A Special Administrator can do this.
Procedure for Appointing Special Administrator:
N.R.S. Chapter 140 covers Special Administrators. N.R.S. 140.020 allows the Court to grant a Petition for a Special Administrator ex parte and with or without notice to other heirs as the Court thinks appropriate. For example, in the above example of a sole proprietor business being required to go through General Administration it could take a month or longer to get the Personal Representative appointed using the usual procedures whereas the Special Administrator could be appointed immediately if the Court agreed.
N.R.S. 140.020(3) says the requirement to be a special administrator is the same as that set forth in N.R.S. 139.010. The most important parts of the latter statute are that the administrator must state under oath that he or she had never been convicted of a felony and that they are a resident of Nevada. If they are not a resident of Nevada, they must work with a Nevada Resident Co-Administrator. Nv. Res. or Prof. Administrator
N.R.S. 140.030 authorizes the Court to require a bond or other security or not to require that. Obviously, if the Special Administrator is only authorized to determine what the assets are, the Court will be less concerned about protecting all of the heirs.
In Clark County (home of Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, Henderson, Boulder City and Mesquite) the Court does not require a filing fee to file for Special Administration. Other Nevada counties are different as each county has authority to set its own filing fees with the exception of a few statutes on the matter.
When Appointing a Special Administrator is a Gamble:
Occasionally we get a potential client who has a fairly old statement showing that their recently deceased father has a large financial account. But the statement is a few years old and the potential client doesn't know if there was anything left in the account when their father died. In such a case we can get the client appointed Special Administrator with authority to question the financial institution about the father's account. But if the answer comes back that the account was closed or there is only a few bucks left in the account, the client's money was wasted hiring us to appoint him or her as special administrator. As a general rule, if the account was still open, it should have been generating periodic mail statements. However, now that online access is in many cases replacing mailed statements, it become harder for potential heirs to learn about assets and their amounts without being appointed as a Special Administrator and without know which institutions might hold the Decedent's money.
When Appointing a Special Administrator is Unnecessary:
If you have to a Summary or General Administration probate anyway because there is over $100,000 of known assets, then the appointed Executor or Administrator will have the authority to question financial institutions about any account the Decedent might have had.