and Your Family
Bronx Estate Administration
Estate administration is very similar to probate.It the legal process that your estate must go through before your assets can be distributed to your heirs.It typically refers to the administrative process that a decedent’s estate must go through if there is no will. The term is also used describe the probate and the administration process that is involved with a testate estate. In New York the Surrogate's Court oversees the settlement of estates. Estate administration proceedings begin when someone approaches the Surrogate's Court and files a petition seeking the appointment of an administrator.Depending on the size and complexity of your estate, estate administration will likely take at least 9 months, and in some cases, significantly longer.There are sometimes problems along the way such as disputes with creditors and heirs.However, there are steps that can be taken to ensure that the estate administration process is smooth.There are also ways to avoid the estate administration process all together.If you have questions about how administration will impact your estate, or if you have questions about how the administration process of the estate of a loved one, contact an experienced Bronx estate administration lawyer at the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates who can help with any administration questions or challenges.Role of an estate administrator
Upon petition by an eligible person, an estate administrator is appointed by the New York Surrogate's Court.Upon approval of the petition, the Surrogate’s Court judge will issue the petitioner letters of administration.The letters of administration are evidence that the Surrogate’s Court has officially appointed the estate administrator giving him (or her) the legal authority to begin the process of settling the decedent's estate.
The Surrogate's Court judge will oversee the estate administration process, including the distribution of assets to the decedent’s heirs.If there are any disputes during the process that lead to estate litigation, the Surrogate’s Court judge will preside over the proceedings.
To learn more about who is eligible to serve as an estate administrator and the petition process, contact an experienced Bronx estate administration lawyer.Estate administration process
The process of settling the estate of a decedent involves a number of tasks:
Notifying heirs.The decedent’s heirs are notified of the decedent’s death and that his (or her) estate is being settled.
Collecting you assets.The estate administrator must collect all of the decedent’s assets.He (or she) must secure both the decedent’s personal and real property and ensure that it is safe.Such property may include a house, furniture, personal items, vehicles, bank accounts, safe deposit box, retirement accounts, and small business assets.
Not all of your assets are subject to the Surrogate’s Court estate administration process.Examples of assets that bypass the process include proceeds of life insurance policies, retirement plans such as pension plans, 401(k) plans and IRAs, property that you own jointly with others with survivorship rights, and property that you placed in a living trust.
Part of safeguarding your assets means that the estate administrator must make sure that your property is maintained.For real estate this may involve making sure that utility bills are paid, insurance is maintained, and that the property is secured.
Appraising assets.Essential to the administration process is figuring out the exact value of the estate as the administrator must know how much money is available to pay estate bills and expenses, and how much is available to distribute to the decedent’s heirs.The values of a vehicle, bank account or investment account are fairly straightforward to determine.However, other items such as jewelry and collectibles or a small business may require that the administrator obtain professional appraisals.
Paying creditors and final bills.The estate administrator must determine if there are creditors of the estate or other claimants and determine if the claims are valid.This involves giving notice to known creditors and closing accounts such as credit card accounts as well as other lines of credit.Valid debts must be paid.Other bills that must be paid out of estate assets include the decedent’s funeral expenses and expenses related to managing the estate. For example, if the executor needed to hire an appraiser, attorney, or accountant, their fees would be paid by the executor from estate assets.Creditors only have a limited amount of time to submit their claims for payment.Claims must be filed within 7 months of when notice was given.
If there is not enough cash in your estate to pay estate debts, then your creditors may only get paid a portion the debt or all or some may not get paid at all.Unfortunately, this would also mean that there would not be money to distribute to heirs.However, your heirs will not inherit your debts.
Distributing assets.In the absence of a will, after all estate debts are paid the balance of the estate will be distributed to your heirs according the intestate succession rules.If the property is tangible personal property such as jewelry, clothing or household furnishings then it can be simply given to the appropriate heir.If the property is real estate, the executor must make sure that the title to the property is properly transferred to the appropriate heir. To fulfill a bequest that is a specific dollar amount, the executor will simply write a check from the estate's account to the appropriate heir.
In some cases the executor may have difficulty finding an heir.The estate administrator must make a good faith effort to find any missing heirs, including possibly employing the services of an heir finder.If the estate administrator cannot find an heir and the property remains unclaimed, the property will eventually be distributed to the missing heir's statutory heirs according to New York's intestacy laws. EPTL § 4-1.1.If your heir has no statutory heirs then the property may become the property of New York State according escheat rules.N.Y. ABP. Law § 1215
If the decedent had a will, the administration process is essentially the same. The major difference is that the decedent’s will guides the actions of the executor, including the distribution of assets.Instead of the assets going the decedent’s heirs, they will go to the decedent’s beneficiaries.Intestate heirs
Under New York laws of intestate succession, your primary heirs are your surviving spouse and your children.However, if you pass away without a spouse or children, then your property will go to blood relatives in a specific order.NY EPTL § 4-1.1
If you are survived by a just a spouse and no, your spouse will inherit 100% of your property.If you are survived by both a spouse and children, then all will share in your estate. Your spouse will inherit the first $50,000 of your estate, plus 50% of the balance.Your children will inherit the remaining 50% of your estate, divided equally.If you are survived by children but no spouse, then they will all share in your estate equally.If you are survived by one or both of your parents, but not by a spouse or children, then your parents will share equally in 100% of your property.After that New York rules on intestate succession provide that your estate will go to your siblings, grandparents, aunts, and uncles based on a priority order outlined in the statute.To learn more about how estate assets are distributed in the absence of a will, contact an experienced estate administration attorney in the Bronx.Problems with an estate administrator
On occasion problems may arise with the administration of an estate.An heir may be unhappy with how the administrator has managed the estate's assets.Someone who has a claim against the estate may be angry if the estate administrator refused to pay a claim.Another party may have had a dispute with you during your lifetime that was never resolved and take it out on the estate administrator.Any dispute involving the administration of an estate may rise to the level of estate litigation which will undoubtedly lead to a delay in the assets of the estate being distributed to your heirs.
As an experienced Bronx estate administration lawyer will explain, an estate administrator is a fiduciary with respect to your estate.This means that the estate administrator is obligated to manage your estate with the utmost care.An estate administrator meets these responsibilities by taking possession of the estate’s assets, taking care of estate assets, keeping accurate records, administering the estate for the sole benefit of your heirs, and by showing the care and skill an ordinary person would have in managing your assets. If the administrator fails to do these things, your heirs may sue the administrator for breach of fiduciary duty or negligence.
Another option for addressing problems with an estate administrator is to seek to have him (or her) removed.There are specific reasons listed in the Surrogate's Court Procedure that a Surrogate's Court judge may remove an administrator:
- Ineligible or disqualified. The administrator is ineligible or disqualified to act as a fiduciary under New York law.N.Y. SCP. LAW § 711(1)
- Wasted assets.The administrator wasted assets, misapplied assets, or made unauthorized investments.N.Y. SCP. LAW § 711(2).
- Unfit for office. The administrator is unfit for the job because of dishonesty, drunkenness, carelessness or want of understanding.N.Y. SCP. LAW § 711(2)
- Disobedience. The administrator refused to follow orders of the court.N.Y. SCP. LAW § 711(3)
- Deceit.The administrator was deceitful.N.Y. SCP. LAW § 711(2)
- Change of address. The administrator failed to notify the court of a change of address within 30 days of such change.N.Y. SCP. LAW § 711(6)
- Removal of property from state. The administrator removed estate property outside of the State of New York without prior court approval.N.Y. SCP. LAW § 711(7)
- Irresponsible. The administrator showed that he or she does not have the degree of responsibility required because of substance abuse, dishonesty, carelessness, or lack of understanding.N.Y. SCP. LAW § 711(8)
- Failure to account. The administrator failed to file an accounting as directed by the court.N.Y. SCP. LAW § 711(12)
Estate administration is sometimes routine but can also become quite complicated depending on the size of the estate and any unexpected events that develop in the process such as estate litigation or missing heirs.However, there are ways to minimize the possibility of problems and ensure that an estate is distributed as quickly as possible.The experienced estate administration attorneys serving the Bronx at the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates have extensive experience representing clients in complex estate administration and estate litigation matters before the New York Surrogate's Court. We are here to help. Contact us at 800-696-9529 to schedule a free, no obligation consultation regarding your case.We represent clients in the following locations:Nassau County, Bronx, Staten Island, Queens, Brooklyn, Long Island, Manhattan, Suffolk County, and Westchester County.