Whether you are reaching the latter stages of your life or a family member has recently died, it can be stressful and anxiety-provoking to confront death and issues like what will happen to your property and wealth after you are gone. We understand the sensitivity of these situations. We are experienced in matters related to estate planning, wills, trusts, probate, estate administration, the selection of an executor, estate taxes, estate settlement services, advance directives, and others. Sometimes out-of-state family members or relatives of New York residents must retain an attorney in New York State, and we represent out-of-state executors, administrators, and beneficiaries.

Issues Related to Trusts and Estates

it needs to be probated in the New York Surrogate's Court, in the county where the decedent lived, in order to have legal effect. Probate is a complex process. It requires the filing of both the original Last Will and a petition that includes information about the decedent and distributees (heirs). The court will determine the validity of the Last Will, which must be properly executed. Sometimes, a family member challenges the validity of the Last Will in a proceeding known as a Will Contest.

have been adequately addressed will the Surrogate's Court issue a decree and issue Letters Testamentary to the person named as Executor in the Last Will. Letters Testamentary provide authority for the Executor to administer the estate by identifying property, having it appraised, paying taxes and debts owed, and distributing the remaining property as directed in the Last Will.

without a last will or trust, an administration proceeding will need to commence in court. The court will appoint an estate administrator to settle the estate. In some cases, it is necessary to determine a decedent's next of kin. Any assets that a decedent owns that would have gone through their Last Will are instead distributed according to intestacy laws.

if you die with a spouse but no children or grandchildren, your spouse inherits everything. If you die with both a spouse and descendants, the spouse inherits the first $50,000 of the intestate property, plus half of the balance, and the descendants inherit everything else. Other family members are eligible to inherit when you do not have a spouse or descendants. Certain assets that have beneficiary designations would not go through this process, such as life insurance proceeds, IRA funds, and property transferred to a living trust.

it is wise to make plans for illness or death long before you actually face the need for those plans to be in place. Estate planning allows you to ensure to the extent possible that your property is distributed as you want after your death. It can also permit you to reduce the tax burden that your family will face. However, it is important to retain an experienced New York City trusts and estates attorney to help you minimize challenges to your estate planning documents.

it is more likely that there will be a will or trust contest, which can result in delays and greater expenses. Only after the court is satisfied that a will is valid will Letters Testamentary be issued so that the executor can administer your estate.

as part of your estate plan prior to your death include a last will, living will, living trust, health care proxy, or power of attorney. Often, it is wise to set up a trust for your property and set up a pour over will to handle any property not handled through the trust. A trust is a legal arrangement in which a property owner, known as a settlor, transfers their property to a trustee to administer for one or more beneficiaries or for a set purpose, based on the instrument terms that govern the arrangement. The trustee owes a fiduciary duty, which is a very high duty of care, to trust beneficiaries.

that a trusts and estates attorney in New York City can draft, and which instrument is appropriate depends on your needs. For example, trusts can be revocable or irrevocable. If they are revocable, the Grantor (Settlor/Trustor) has kept the right, either unilaterally or with the consent of someone else, to revoke the trust and reclaim the assets within it. Revocable trusts can usually be amended by the grantor, even if they are not specifically described as such. By contrast, an irrevocable trust is any trust that cannot be undone.

based on whether the people involved are living. A living trust is created through a separate agreement between a living grantor and a trustee. A testamentary trust is part of a decedent's will, such that the will is the trust instrument. In New York, a trustee of a testamentary trust needs to get Letters of Trusteeship from a court supervising the administration of an estate before they can serve as a trustee.

there may be disputes about who gets what. Most probate cases do not involve estate litigation, but there are serious controversies at times. For example, a family member may not receive a share of the estate, or they may not receive the share that they expected. In some cases, it may be necessary to bring a will contest. In New York, you can file a will contest based on lack of testamentary capacity, undue influence, duress, fraud, or improper execution of a will.

probate lawyer nyc

Probate

probate lawyer nyc

Probate is the procedure by which a person’s Will is given validity by the Court. The probate New York State process can be complex. A formal petition, the original Will, witness affidavits and proper notice to family members and others are among the papers required in the New York State probate process.

in the Surrogate's Court.  There is a Surrogate's Court located in each county in New York: Queens Surrogate's Court, Kings (Brooklyn) Surrogate's Court and New York County (Manhattan) Surrogate's Court, Bronx County, Richmond, Nassau and Suffolk County.

two primary sources of law.  One is the Estates, Powers and Trusts Law ("EPTL") and the other is the Surrogate's Court Procedure Act ("SCPA").  These statutes, along with various Court decisions and rules, provide the basis for probating a New York Will.  When a person dies without a Last Will, such a situation results in an Intestate Estate.  The statutes provide different procedures in these cases, as a probate lawyer in New York can explain.  Whether an estate is subject to probate or intestate administration proceedings, the Surrogate's Court requires that it be provided with all detailed information regarding a decedent including names and addresses of next of kin ("distributees") and assets.
as to a person's next of kin.  In many instances, where the only surviving relatives are cousins or more distant relations, such persons whereabouts and family connection to the decedent can be hard to find and to prove.  Relatives might be scattered throughout many states or countries and they may not have had any contact with the decedent for decades, if at all.  These issues are often resolved in Kinship Hearings.  These hearings require that the Court be provided with the testimony of disinterested persons and certified records such as birth, death and marriage certificates all of which are needed to demonstrate kinship to the decedent.
I have represented many clients and helped them with probate New York State procedures. I work closely with my clients in preparing the numerous Court papers, representing them in the probate Court proceedings and completing the probate process.

Probate lawyer NYC & Estate Administration

Probate and Estate Administration focuses on becoming appointed Administrator or Executor after a relative’s or loved one’s death. If the Decedent had a Last Will and Testament, then the fiduciary must Probate the Will. Where there is no Last Will and Testament, the next of kin must proceed with Estate Administration. When it is unclear who the next of kin is, then the matter must be set down for a Kinship Hearing.

Following your appointment as Administrator or Executor or Preliminary Executor (for when you need immediate access but probate will be delayed), you will receive either Letters of Administration (if you are Administrator), Letters Testamentary (if you are Executor) or Preliminary Letters Testamentary (if you are Preliminary Executor). Once you receive one of the above referenced letters, you will have certain responsibilities, including, but not limited to: collecting, securing, coordinating, and finalizing one’s financial affairs after their death. 

What is Probate?

Probate is the process of proving one’s Will. Probate literally means “to prove” in Latin. When a person dies leaving a Will, that person’s nominated Executor should take the Will, the Death Certificate, and the standard packet of Probate forms to the Surrogate’s Court in the County where either i) the Decedent died; or ii) the Decedent left property. The Surrogate’s Court will review the documents and, provided all is in order, issue Letters Testamentary.

What is the Process of Probating a Will?

In order to probate, you will need to
(i) gather documents;
(ii) fill out forms;
(iii) go to court; and,
(iv) pay the fee. 
You may also decide to hire a probate attorney. 

You will need:

  • the original +1 copy of the Will;
  • A certified copy of the Death Certificate; and,
  • And, if the Decedent was survived by only one person or by cousins, then you will need an Affidavit of Heirship from a disinterested person

The Fees depend on the value of the gross estate. Here’s a schedule from SCPA 2402: 

Go to the Surrogate’s Court in the County where your Decedent died or had property to submit all the forms and pay the fee. If the Court issues a Citation, then attend Court on the return date of Citation. If nobody appears and objects, the Court will issue letters. If somebody objects, consider calling an attorney. Once letters are issued, then you will become the Executor. Facts and circumstances may vary. If you have nuances, consider contacting a probate attorney familiar with the local rules.

In order to understand probate, the probate process, and the proceedings held in the Surrogate’s Court, it is first essential to understand the following terms and definitions:

  1. Decedent: A deceased individual
  2. Estate: All of the property owned by the decedent
  3. Beneficiaries: The persons (or entities) that are designated under the decedent’s will to benefit from the decedent’s property

New York State probate law, and the probate process, is set forth in the Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act (“SCPA”) and the Estates Powers and Trust Law (“EPTL”). SCPA defines terms relating to probate (e.g., executor, person interested, estate); sets forth the probate process, sets forth the procedure for commencing and maintaining probate proceedings and other related proceedings, lists the court fees that are to be paid in connection with certain proceedings, and sets forth rules governing the disposition of a decedent’s property.

EPTL defines the duties and powers of a fiduciary of an estate.  It also sets forth the requirements of due execution of a Will, of examining witnesses to a Will, of construing Wills, and of seeking Letters to administer an estate. EPTL also sets forth rules on Trusts.

A probate asset is one that does not have a beneficiary designation and does not pass by operation of law. Indeed, probate assets are those assets that are owned solely in the name of the decedent.  If the decedent either owned assets jointly with another individual or named a beneficiary of any of her assets, those assets pass by operation of law and are not the subject of probate proceedings.

For example, if Elaine died owning a house in her name alone.  That house is a probate asset, and that house can only be disposed of by a fiduciary that was appointed by the Surrogate’s Court.  However, if Elaine owned the house jointly with her husband, the husband can take ownership of without any kind of court intervention. Sometimes you do not need to probate when the only asset is a house.

Examples of probate assets include any real property titled solely in the name of the decedent; individually-owned savings, checking and brokerage accounts as opposed to jointly owned bank accounts, which are non-probate assets; art; cars; jewelry; cash; and electronic devices.

Where a person dies without a Will, the administration proceeding is commenced in Surrogate’s Court.  Since the person died without naming anyone to act as fiduciary or beneficiaries, the law sets forth who may become the fiduciary of the estate and who is entitled to share in the decedent’s assets.  SCPA § 1001 provides a hierarchy of individuals who may obtain Letters of Administration from the Court where a decedent dies without a will.  EPTL § 4-1.1 provides for the distribution of an intestate decedent’s property.

The process of an administration proceeding is very similar to that of a probate proceeding, except that the court forms look slightly different and there are generally fewer steps involved.

The decedent’s next of kin must be given notice of the probate proceeding because they must be afforded the opportunity to object to the will if they so choose.  There are a few ways to afford them this opportunity.  The Petitioner should first try to obtain consents and waivers from the decedent’s next of kin.  By signing a waiver and consent, an individual is consenting to the probate of the will and the Court’s appointment of executor named in the will.  The Petitioner should send blank waivers to the decedent’s next of kin and request their signatures.  This process should be done before the Petitioner files the Petition with the Court.  If the Petitioner receives all of the waivers signed by the next of kin, he can then file the petition, the waivers, and any other supporting documents (affidavit of heirship, death certificate, original will, notice of probate) with the Court.

If the Petitioner does not receive one or more of the waivers that he mailed, then the Petitioner must file the petition with the supporting documents with the Court and supply the court with a citation, which a court clerk will then complete (by providing a return date and signing the citation) and then mail back to the Petitioner.  The citation will list all individuals who must be served the citation.  The Petitioner must then serve the citation on all individuals who are named on the citation.  (A citation may also be needed in certain situations, even where all next of kin has signed waivers.)

The beneficiaries of the decedent’s will who are not also the decedent’s next of kin must be given notice of the proceeding.  These beneficiaries are only entitled to a Notice of Probate, which only provides notice of the probate proceeding.  They are not afforded the opportunity to be heard in court, since they would not have been entitled to share in the estate had the decedent not executed a will.

At the return date, as long as all of the persons interested in the estate have been served prior to the return date and no one objects to probate of the will, the surrogate will state on the record that decree is to be granted, meaning that the will is probated and the Court will issue Letters Testamentary to the nominated executor.  Within the following few weeks, the Court will then sign a decree, in which he orders the probate of the will and appointment of the Executor, and will issue the Letters Testamentary.

Should a person interested in the estate appear and wish to object to the will, the Court will most likely not immediately grant decree.  After the objecting party files objections, the parties will meet in court for conferences, which can either lead to settlement or litigation.

As the probate process is time-consuming and involves a lot of paperwork, individuals usually hire attorneys to assist them in the probate proceedings.

Here are the top 10 questions to ask:

  1. Is Probate and Estate Administration one of your primary areas of focus?
  2. Do you regularly appear in Surrogate’s Court?
  3. Do you regularly appear in the Surrogate’s Court in the county in which this Will is going to be probated?
  4. What documents will I need to provide you?
  5. Do you see anything wrong with the Will?
  6. What are the duties of an executor?
  7. How long will this process take?
  8. How do you bill for your time? (Flat fee or hourly?)
  9. How much will this cost?
  10. Are you personally handling the filing or will your associate, paralegal, or other individual be assisting you?

It is important for the client to provide all the facts of the matter to the probate attorney and ask if the attorney believes that there will be a will contest.  Will contests involve  more work than uncontested will proceedings and are more costly and time-consuming.

When filing a Petition for Letters Testamentary, the Petitioner must also file a fee, the amount of which varies depending on the size of the estate.  SCPA 2402 provides the fee rates for various estate sizes.  In addition, once the Court issues Letters, it charges six dollars ($6) per Letter.

Attorneys generally charge percentage fees, fixed rate or hourly fees in connection with estates proceedings.  The rates can vary in New York anywhere from $300 dollars an hour to $700 dollars an hour for probate matters.  A typical New York estate can usually incur between $3,000 and $10,000 just to obtain Letters Testamentary.  The matter will be costly if litigation is involved.

Once the will is admitted to probate, the Executor should collect all of the decedent’s assets, pay the decedent’s taxes (including the decedent’s final income tax and any estate taxes), pay the decedent’s bills and other outstanding expenses, and then distribute the decedent’s assets in accordance with the decedent’s will.

You will need the following:

  • Probate Petition
  • List the next of kin, primary executor, and adversely affected beneficiaries in paragraph 6 of the Petition.
  • Put everybody who is mentioned in the will and who is not in paragraph 6 in paragraph 7.
  • Either a “Waiver of Process; Consent to Probate” (“Waiver”) or a “Citation” for everybody listed in paragraph 6.  If the person agrees to your appointment as Executor, have that person sign a Waiver. If that person does not agree, then ask the Court to issue a Citation that you will need to serve upon that person. Click here to read more about serving papers at rklawny.com/resources.
  • Notice of Probate for everybody listed in paragraph 7, along with an Affidavit of Mailing of Notice of Probate.
  • Affidavit of Comparison.
  • Affidavit of Assets and Liabilities.
  • Affidavit of Attesting Witnesses when the Will does not contain a Self-Proving Affidavit

There are two types of proceedings that can be commenced in a New York State Surrogate’s Court in order to obtain authority to act as fiduciary of an estate: an administration proceeding and a probate proceeding.

When a person dies without a Last Will and Testament (“Will”), that person is said to have died “intestate.”  Where there is no Will, the individual died without naming a person to handle their affairs or manage their estate.

Where a person dies with a Will, the person is said to have died testate. Their Last Will & Testament must be filed with the Surrogate’s Court and proven to be valid. The Probate process is how the Court accepts the Will of a person and grants authority to a qualified fiduciary to manage that person’s estate.

If the Court decides that the Will is valid, it will issue “Letters Testamentary” to the nominated Executor, which appoints him as the Executor and authorizes him to collect the decedent’s probate assets, pay the decedent’s taxes and bills, and distribute the decedent’s probate assets to the beneficiaries named in the decedent’s will.

The Probate process is only necessary where a person has a Last Will and died with probate assets. (Probate assets are defined in the next section.)  Where a person dies with probate assets in his or her estate, the executor nominated in the decedent’s Will must probate the decedent’s will in order to collect and distribute those probate assets. When there are no probate assets, or when there are no assets, then no need to probate. For example, if Aunt Becky died with both a Will and beneficiary designations on all of her accounts, then there is no need to probate because the beneficiary designations override the terms of the Will and will serve as the mechanism by which all assets are distributed.

This rule is strictly enforced both by the courts and by financial institutions.  When an individual attempts to close out a bank account that was owned only in the decedent’s name, the bank will ask the individual for a copy of the decedent’s death certificate and a certified copy of the Letters Testamentary issued by the Surrogate’s Court.  A bank will refuse to assist the individual in any way until the individual can obtain Letters Testamentary and provide a certified copy to the bank. (If there is a beneficiary designation on the bank account, then the bank will not require the Letters Testamentary and will instead just ask for the identification of the beneficiary).

Examples of non-probate assets include jointly held real property; jointly held savings, checking, and brokerage accounts; bank accounts with a named beneficiary; life insurance policies with a named beneficiary; and assets held in trust.

The Executor nominated in the decedent’s Will should commence a probate proceeding.  The Executor – who is known as the Petitioner for the purpose of the proceeding –  commences the proceeding by preparing a petition that provides the Court with information about the decedent, including the decedent’s date of death, a list of the names and addresses of the decedent’s next of kin – the individuals who would benefit from the decedent’s will had the decedent not executed the will, a list of the names and addresses of the beneficiaries named in the decedent’s will, and a list of the decedent’s probate assets and their values.

The Petitioner must give notice of the probate proceeding to the decedent’s next of kin and the beneficiaries of the decedent’s will. 

As mentioned above, the Petitioner must file a Petition for Letters Testamentary, the original will, and the death certificate.  Other documents may be needed, such as an Affidavit of Heirship detailing the decedent’s family tree. He must also either provide waivers signed by the decedent’s next of kin or show that he has served the citation on those individuals.  A Notice of Probate must also be served on all beneficiaries who are not also next of kin.  Some courts prefer that the petitioner provide a proposed decree for the court to sign once the will is probated, while other courts provide the proposed decrees themselves.

A probate attorney is not required by law.  An individual commencing a probate proceeding can commence it pro se (without an attorney). A person can file a divorce on their own or even sue City Hall on their own-it just isn’t easy. An understanding of the probate laws is necessary to complete the court paperwork, properly give notice to all persons who have an interest in the estate and distribute all the decedent’s property.  Therefore, it is highly recommended that anyone attempting to probate a will hire an attorney.

It is especially recommended that an individual hire a probate attorney where he expects that someone will be contesting probate of the decedent’s will.  Estate litigation matters require expert knowledge of all estate and probate laws, as well as an understanding of the New York State civil practice rules.

Depending on the complexity of the matter, the timeframe may vary.  If there are few persons interested in the estate and no one wishes to the contest the will, the probate process should last no longer than 15 months.  However, if there are many parties, especially parties whose whereabouts are unknown, the process can take longer.  See below.

If the estate is straightforward (all persons with an interest in the estate have been found and no one has contested to the probate of the will), the probate process should only take about three to six months.

However, if the estate is more complicated, it can take years before the decedent’s will is probated.  If a will is contested and the parties refuse to settle the matter, the parties may decide to litigate the matter and Estate litigation can take years to resolve.

There are a few ways to avoid probate.  Revocable trusts are often used to avoid probate.  Trust assets are not probate assets and, thus, they avoid probate.  In order for this to work, an individual creating a trust must transfer title of all of his assets to the name of the trust.  In practice, however, this doesn’t always work, as trust creators often neglect to transfer all of their assets before they die.   Pour-over wills are often executed in conjunction with the revocable trust in order to “catch” all property that was not transferred into the trust. 

 

An individual can also create non-probate assets, such as those described above.

A distinction is to be made between property that is held jointly and property that is held as tenants in common.  If an individual owns real property as tenants in common with one or more individuals, that individual is free to distribute his share of the property (either during life or after death), and the share of the property is considered a probate asset if it is still in his possession after his death.  If, however, that individual owns the real property either as joint tenants with rights of survivorship or as joint tenants by the entirety (only spouses can own property as tenants by the entirety), then the real property is not a probate asset, as it then passes to the survivor upon the decedent’s death.

The decedent’s next of kin, also known as the decedent’s distributees, are named in the petition because they have an interest in the decedent’s estate, as they are the individuals who would have been entitled to share in the decedent’s estate if the decedent had died without a will.  The purpose of naming them is to give them notice of the probate proceeding in order to allow them an opportunity to object to the will and give reasons for objecting to the will.

Estate Administration Attorney

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What is Estate Administration and how can Estate Administration Attorney Help?

If you die without a Will, an Estate Administrator may need to be appointed in order to manage your property and handle your post mortem affairs. An Estate Administration attorney can assist with this process.

Who can be the Estate Administrator and How can an Estate Administration Attorney Help?

Surrogate’s Court Procedures Act Section 1001 sets forth who can be the Estate Administrator, and the priority in which Letters of Administration can be issued. The order of priority for Letters of Administration are:

  • Spouse
  • Child(ren)
  • Grandchild(ren)
  • Parent(s)
  • Sibling(s)
  • A first cousin can serve as an estate administrator ONLY when all of the cousins on both sides of the family are known and the Court has acquired jurisdiction over all of them. Otherwise, in a cousin’s case, Letters of Administration shall issue to the Public Administrator of the county of Decedent’s death.
  • In some cases, a person not on the above list can serve as a designated administrator but this can only happen if all of the other interested parties consent to the appointment of the designated person.

(There is an interesting anomaly in the law as presently written in that if you die without a Will, all of the next of kin can choose and designate an independent person to serve as an Administrator and there is no additional requirement that the distributees themselves be eligible. Where there is a Will, however, if all of the nominated executors cannot be found or are not qualified, the residuary beneficiaries can choose an independent person to serve as Administrator, c.t.a. only if each of the residuary beneficiaries are themselves eligible. Compare SCPA 1001(6) with SCPA 1418(6).) An estate administration attorney can help you determine who should petition to be the administrator. 

What is the Role of an Estate Administrator and how can an Estate Administration Attorney Help?

Once letters of Administration have issued, the Estate Administrator’s duties parallel the Executor’s duties. The Administrator should find and collect the assets. Any liquid assets should be deposited into an estate account. If there are parcels of real property, then the Administrator needs to determine whether the property should be sold or distributed in kind. The Administrator should wait to see what claims are filed against the estate. Once the assets are collected, the claims and debts are satisfied, then the Administrator can distribute the property in accordance with the intestate distribution schedule set forth in EPTL 4-1.1. I typically recommend that the Administrator create a distribution chart. I also ask that all beneficiaries sign a Receipt Release and Indemnification Agreement before the Administrator turns over the funds so that the Administrator can be protected.

How do I become appointed Estate Administrator and do I need an Estate Administration Attorney?

First, you must figure out who the Decedent was immediately survived by. The person who immediately survived the Decedent has the first priority to become an Administrator, unless you can find a reason to disqualify them.

Then Gather:

  • A certified copy of the Death Certificate
  • A paid copy of the funeral bill
  • And, if the Decedent was survived by only one person or by cousins, an Affidavit of Heirship from a disinterested person.

Next, fill out the forms.
You can download them here:

  • Administration Petition;
  • “Waiver of Process; Consent to Probate” (“Waiver”) or a “Citation” for everybody listed in Paragraph 6;
  • Affidavit of Assets and Liabilities;
  • If you are requesting no bond, then an Affidavit to Dispense with the Filing of a Bond.

Bring The Filing Fee.
The Fees depends on the value of the gross estate. Here’s a quick cheat sheet chart from SCPA 2402: 

Go to the Surrogate’s Court in the County where you Decedent died or had property to submit all the forms. Go to the Administration Department (because you have do NOT have the will). Submit the forms and pay the fee. If you did not get a waiver and consent from all of your necessary parties, the Court will issue a Citation with a return date. Go to Court on the return date. If nobody objects, the Court will issue letters. If somebody objects, consider calling an attorney.

Facts and circumstances may differ in every case. 

Checklist for Executors for Settling an Estate

You Have Been Appointed Executor of An Estate in NYC. What do you do now?  Here is a basic checklist for executors settling an estate, including a list of tasks to perform is below. 

Review Decedent’s Will Carefully.

The first step on this checklist for executors is for the nominated executor to review the Will. Take note of the general bequests and specific bequests. A general bequest is a note from the Decedent to distribute a portion of assets to a person (e.g. I leave 25% of my estate to John). A specific bequest is an instruction from the Decedent to distribute a particular item to a person (e.g. I give my engagement ring to my daughter, Sara). If there are specific bequests in the Decedent’s Will, you should immediately go and locate those specific items, take inventory of them, and hold them for safekeeping until you can distribute them.

Also, take note whether the house is specifically devised or whether there is a directive that the house be sold and the proceeds distributed to certain people. There are special rules when real estate is the sole estate asset so please be mindful of those rules.

Obtain a Bond, if Directed by the Court.

The next step on this checklist for executors is for the executor to obtain a bond if necessary. A bond serves as insurance for the beneficiaries of the estate. Many times the Will is going to direct that the bond be dispensed with but you should double check. If the Will directs that the bond be dispensed with, then there is no need for a bond. if the Will directs the imposition of a bond, then the steps for obtaining a bond vary according to the County where you are probating the Will. Some counties first want you to file your probate petition and then they will direct that you file a bond. Check with the county before you file.

Checklist For Executors – Collect all of the Decedent’s Assets.

A common question I receive is how to locate the Decedent’s assets. This is where you may need to put on your investigator hat and figure out where the money is and how you can collect it into the estate account. You should review the Decedent’s mail and bank statements. You should contact the Decedent’s accountant and financial advisor, if they have one. You should review the Decedent’s tax returns. The tax returns will have information on any account that generated over $10 in interest for the year. Once you locate the assets, you will want to go to the bank or financial institution and collect those assets. That means that you close the Decedent’s account in their personal name and physically collect the funds. Don’t forget to check Unclaimed Funds.

Checklist For Executors – Open an Estate Account.

Once you collect the Decedent’s liquid assets, you are going to need a place to put them. You cannot put them into your own bank account as some may consider this stealing or commingling. You have to create a new bank account. You cannot use the Decedent’s social security number. You have to obtain a new tax identification number. You can obtain a new number by filling out a form with the IRS online. You will then go to the bank with a copy of the new tax identification number, the death certificate, the money you want to deposit, and a copy of your Letters Testamentary that you obtained from the Court giving you authority to act. You can then put the money into an estate account and safeguard it.

Sell Property that Must or Can be Sold

The next step on your Executor’s checklist is to figure out whether the Decedent has real property and whether that property needs to be sold. If the Will directs that the property be sold, then it’s time to sell. if the Will is silent, you may want to speak with your beneficiaries – do they want cash or kind? If the beneficiaries can agree and they want kind, then you should consider transferring the property. Please note that you will not receive commissions on unsold realty. That being said, you should act in the best interest of the estate an the beneficiaries.

Obtain Appraisals and Valuations

If the beneficiaries cannot agree on whether to sell or distribute, or if you have an estate for which you must be pay estate taxes, or if you are an Executor of an estate that owns a business that must now be sold, then you will want to obtain an estate appraisal of the asset. An appraisal or valuation is an estimate of what the property is worth. Note that if you have a taxable estate, you may want to consider whether you can take some discounts on the values of assets that cannot easily be sold or are partly owned by others.

Pay Bill, Debts, and Taxes.

After you have collected all the assets and determined their value, and figured out what has to be sold, you should shift focus to determining what bills and debts of the Decedent must be paid. Not all debts must immediately be paid. You may want to review SCPA Article 18 and speak with an estate attorney regarding debts and priority of payment.

An executor must pay funeral and administration expenses. You must also pay taxes. If you receive claims, make sure that the claims are in proper order, pursuant to SCPA Article 18.

If the estate you are handling is greater than $5.8 million dollars you may have to deal with a New York State Estate Tax. If your estate consists of stocks, bonds, equities, or other income producing assets, and those assets generate more than $600 of income, you may have to file Fiduciary Income Taxes. You may want to discuss this with your accountant.

Prepare an Accounting

The next steps in this checklist for executors is to prepare an accounting to the beneficiaries of the estate to show them what money came in and how it was spent and what is left. There are a number of ways to prepare an accounting.  You should speak with your beneficiaries and see what they would prefer. Obviously the easiest would be an informal accounting that does not require Court approval. If the beneficiaries question some of your decisions, then you may want to do a formal accounting so that you have Court approval of your actions as the Executor. Note that not all accountings must be approved by the Court and those that do require Court approval take a long time, which will delay the distribution of assets.

Checklist for Executors – Make Distributions

The last step is to give the money out to the beneficiaries. There are two types of distributions that can be made. There can be a partial distribution. A partial distribution is where you distribute some of the money. If you know that the estate administration process will take a long time, then you may want to consider making a partial distribution. If the administration process will be relatively simple you may just want to make one distribution at the end after everybody has approved of your accounting. Regardless of when you distribute money, always make sure that the beneficiaries sign a RECEIPT, RELEASE, and REFUNDING AGREEMENT so that if anything goes wrong, you can get the money back.

Good luck!

Estate Administration Checklist

You Have Been Appointed Administrator of An Estate in NYC. What do you do now?  An Estate Administration Checklist of tasks to perform to settle the estate is provided below.

Confirm There is No Will Obtain a Fiduciary Bond, if so Directed by the Court.

A bond is like an insurance policy for the beneficiaries of an estate and provides a recovery mechanism for them in the event that there is negligence or malfeasance by the fiduciary.

Collect the Decedent’s Assets.

You will need to discover where the money is and how you can collect it into the estate account. Don’t forget Unclaimed Funds.

Open an Estate Account and Deposit Estate Assets

This is where you place all of the money that you have collected to date.

Pay Decedent’s Bills.

Funeral and administration expenses come first. You must also pay taxes. If you receive claims, make sure that the claims are in proper order, pursuant to SCPA Article 18.

Obtain Appraisals and Pay Taxes If Any.

If the estate you are handling is greater than $5.8 million dollars you may have to deal with a New York State Estate Tax. If there is real property, you will need appraisals and an inventory of all assets. If your estate consists of stocks, bonds, equities, or other income producing assets, and those assets generate more than $600 of income, you may have to file Fiduciary Income Taxes. Please discuss this with your accountant.

Sell Property that Needs to be Sold

Speak with your beneficiaries – do they want cash or kind?
Prepare an Accounting. Prepare Receipts and Releases Make Distributions