Suffolk County Estate Administration
Estate administration is a legal process that is triggered when someone passes away. During estate administration the decedent’s estate is settled and his (or her) property is distributed to his heirs. An estate administrator manages the process and the New York Surrogate’s Court has jurisdiction over the matter. Estate administration is term used to describe the administration process when there is no will, while probate administration is typically used to describe the process when there is a will. However, the two terms are often used interchangeably. The process of estate administration has 3 major steps: inventorying the estate, paying estate debts and expenses, and distributing assets. If you are involved in the process of the administration of the estate of a loved one and have questions or concerns, contact an experienced Suffolk County estate administration lawyer at the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates who can help you through the challenges of the process.Becoming an estate administrator
Unlike an executor who is named in a will, an estate administrator is appointed by the New York Surrogate's Court upon petition from an eligible person. Notice of the petition will be given to the decedent’s heirs and other interested parties. Interested parties have the right to object to the appointment. If no one objects and the Surrogate’s Court judge finds the person to be eligible and qualified, the court will issue that person the letters of administration. The letters of administration officially appoint the estate administrator giving him (or her) the legal authority to begin the process of managing the decedent's estate.Responsibilities of the estate administrator
While there are many details involved in the settling of the estate, the process of estate administration has 3 major steps: inventorying the estate, paying estate debts and expenses, and distributing assets.
Inventorying estate assets. One of the first jobs of the estate administrator is to take control over the decedent's assets and inventory them. Estate assets may include bank accounts, investment accounts, real estate, artwork, antiques, jewelry, and other personal property. The process of going through the decedent's estate may be tedious as you may have to go through a great deal of paperwork to find information. However, the only way to make an accurate determination of the value of the property in the estate is to find all assets and have them appraised.
While the ultimate goal of estate administration is to distribute estate assets to the decedent's heirs, doing so will take some time. In the meantime the estate administration must manage the estate's assets. This may involve making sure that estate property is secure, paying bills to maintain the property such as utility bills. The administrator must also collect any money owed to the deceased. If the decedent owned a business, the administrator may have to sell assets, take care of payroll and otherwise temporarily run the business until it is transferred to others or shut down completely.
Pay estate debts and expenses. The estate administrator is responsible for paying debts owed by the estate, including taxes and expenses of managing the estate. There is a statutory priority as to the order in which debts are paid. For example, the funeral expenses of the decedent have the highest priority. If there are not sufficient assets in the estate to pay all debt and expenses, the lower priority obligations may not get paid. To learn more about the order of debt payment, contact an experienced Suffolk County estate administration lawyer.
The estate administrator is responsible for caring for all outstanding federal and local tax obligations. If necessary, the administrator can hire an attorney or accountant to help calculate any estate taxes that are due. In addition, the administrator is responsible for filing the decedent's final returns. If the decedent owes taxes, the administrator will pay them out of the estate. If a refund is due, it will be added to the estate.
Distributing estate assets. The last step in the administration process before the estate is closed is distributing the estate assets. Prior to the final distribution of assets, small allowances can be given to the testator's spouse, minor children and others who relied on the testator for support. In general, however, no assets are distributed until debts paid and all other estate issues are resolved as the estate administrator must make certain that there are sufficient assets in the estate to pay estate debts. As an experienced Suffolk County estate administration lawyer will explain, paying estate debt generally takes priority over asset distribution. In case where debts and expense exceed assets, there will be nothing to distribute and the decedent’s heirs will not get anything.
Since there is no will, New York law dictates who will receive the decedent's property. The only potential heirs are a surviving spouse and certain blood relatives, including children, parents, grandparents, and siblings. The rules of intestate succession give a specific order in which statutory heirs may inherit. NY EPTL § 4-1.1. If the decedent has only a surviving spouse, then he (or she) will receive the entire estate. If the decedent has both a spouse and children (or grandchildren), then the spouse will receive the first $50,000 of the estate with the remaining assets being split between the children and the spouse. Grandchildren would receive a deceased child’s share. If there are no children or spouse, then the decedent's parents will get the entire estate. After that, the decedent's siblings and then other blood relatives will be entitled to share in the estate.
Even though the law states clearly who may inherit, family members may be dissatisfied with the result and resort to estate litigation. Another problem that occasionally develops occurs when heirs are difficult to locate. When this happens the estate administrator must make a diligent effort to locating the missing heirs. If there are difficulties in locating heirs, there may be a delay in the distribution of assets and closing the estate. The services of an heir finder may help you locate hard-to-find relatives.Problems with an estate administrator
An estate administrator is a fiduciary. He or she must fulfill his or her duty in a prudent manner and avoid dealing with estate assets and issues in a self-interested manner. As an experienced estate administration attorney in Suffolk County will explain, if the administrator performs his or her responsibilities in an imprudent manner, then that administrator can be removed by the court. Furthermore, poor management of an estate could lead an interested party such as a heir to commence estate litigation based on breach of fiduciary duties. If the court finds that an estate administrator breached his or her fiduciary duties, the administrator may be personally liable for any losses that resulted from such errors or omissions, or from failing to act fairly, prudently, or timely.Contact the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates
The process of estate administration typically involves routine activities. However, there can also be challenges along the way such as estate litigation, problems locating heirs or beneficiaries, or complicated assets. Whether you are an executor, administrator, beneficiary, heir or other party involved in the process of administering an estate, an experienced estate administration attorney serving Suffolk County will help you through the challenges of the process. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates have extensive experience with estate matters and frequently represents clients before the New York Surrogate's Court. Contact us at 1-800-NY-NY-LAW (1-800-696-9529) 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.