Westchester County Estate Administration Lawyer

When you pass away, the process of winding up your affairs can be a complicated process, involving several different steps. This legal process is called estate administration. While the ultimate goal of estate administration is to distribute your assets to your beneficiaries or heirs, that is not the only goal of estate administration. The person who manages the process of estate administration is referred the administrator. Estate administration is similar to probate. In fact some use the terms estate administration and probate administration interchangeable. However, probate administration refers to the legal process that occurs when a person passes away and leaves a will, while estate administration occurs when there is no will. The executor named in the will manages probate, while a court appointed administrator manages estate administration. If you are appointed to serve as the administrator over a loved one's estate it is important that you work with an experienced Westchester County Estate Administration Lawyer who will guide you through the complicated process of estate administration so that the assets of the estate can be distributed as quickly as possible.

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. An estate administrator is appointed in response to the filing of a Petition for Letters of Administration. Notice of the petition will be given to your heirs and other interested parties. If no one objects, then the judge will determine who is the appropriate person for the job. The judge will then issue that person the letters of administration. The letters of administration officially appoint the estate administrator giving that person the legal authority to begin the process of managing your estate. Your estate administrator is sometimes referred to as your personal representative.

Responsibilities of the estate administrator

Take Control of Estate Assets. One of the first jobs of the estate administrator is collect and to take control over your assets. 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.

Managing the Estate. 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 property is secure, paying estate bills such as utility bills or credit card 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 heirs sold.

If there is not enough cash in the estate assets to pay debts, then the administrator may have to sell property in order to satisfy debts. Assets such as real estate, jewelry, and vehicles are typically sold at public auction.

Pay Estate Taxes. One of the responsibilities of the executor is to pay estate taxes. 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. 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 and ultimately be passed to the beneficiaries.

Closing the estate. After all estate debts are paid, claims are resolved and taxes are paid, the administrator must provide the Surrogate's Court with an accounting of the estate showing all any income earned or disbursements made by the estate after the death of the deceased.

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.

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 surviving children, then the spouse will receive the first $50,000 of the estate with the remaining assets being split between the children and the spouse. 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 is where 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 prudent manner and avoid dealing with estate assets and issues in a self-interested manner. 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.

The process of estate administration can be quite routine. However, there can also be bumps in the road along the way if there is a will contest, estate litigation or hard-to-find heirs. An experienced Westchester County Estate Administration Lawyer will help you complete the process as quickly as possible under the circumstances. The staff at Stephen Bilkis & Associates, PLLC has extensive estate planning experience 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 estate plan. We serve individuals throughout the following locations:

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