Understanding Special Administrators: Lessons Learned from In Re Estate of Jones

The South Dakota Supreme Court recently reversed a circuit court’s order denying a petition pursuing appointment of a special administrator to seek a wrongful death claim for a deceased man’s estate. The Supreme Court held that the circuit court abused its discretion in failing to address certain discovery motions before deciding a special administrator petition.

After the man in question passed away, the circuit court decided that the deceased man’s surviving wife should function as his estate’s personal representative. The man’s children then petitioned for appointment of a special administrator to seek a wrongful death claim for the deceased man’s estate and later served discovery requests on the surviving wife pursuing information related to the petition. The court then denied the special administrator petition and found that the discovery issues were moot.

The Supreme Court reversed the circuit court’s decision and held that the circuit court gave the man’s children the chance to develop and later present evidence connected to their petition. 

This case highlights the critical role that special administrators play in the estate planning process. Unfortunately, people often overlook the role that special administrators can play in estate administration.

The Role of a Special Administrator

A special administrator is a court-selected individual who a court appoints often during probate to manage an estate. Special administrators can have various specialties. For example, a special administrator with experience in vinyl storage might be tasked with managing a person’s record collection. In some cases, special administrators are even assigned with management of an entire estate for a short period of time. In these  situations, special administrators are tasked with maintaining an estate and not taking control of probate.

Some of the important aspects to understand about special administrators include:

  • A special administrator’s duties. After a special administrator is appointed, the special administrator is responsible for collecting both assets and debts of the deceased individual to preserve them until the court  selects an executor or an administrator who will act in a permanent role. During this period, a special administrator might initiate a lawsuit or defend a lawsuit if they involve preserving the assets of an estate. 
  • Dismissing an administrator. When courts decide an appropriate executor is prepared to take over an estate, a special administrator’s powers end. An administrator transfers all estate assets to an executor’s control. If an administrator pursues a lawsuit, the executor will take control over how the lawsuit is prosecuted.
  • Lawsuits involving administrators. Special administrators are required to hand control to an appointed executor. If the administrator maintains possession of the estate as well as its assets, courts sometimes take action to force the administrator to turn over the estate. Additionally, the court appointed executor might pursue legal action against the administrator to recover assets.



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