May 20, 2022 Limited Letters of Administration in New York State | SCPA 1001
Responsible estate planning always serves the best interests of people who want to control what happens to their assets when they die. Planning for that unpleasant but certain eventuality means that a loving spouse, dear family members, and friends will be provided for as you direct. Timely estate planning also ensures that your assets will be best protected from unnecessary taxes, avoidable delays, and expensive legal fees incurred in probate proceedings, and helps your loved ones administer your estate in an orderly and expeditious manner without all the hassles and heartache occasioned by an estate left unattended and disarray.
Unfortunately, end of life events cannot always be anticipated and many of our friends and neighbors die without a will, or, what the law refers to as “intestate.” Under the New York Surrogate Court Procedure Act (SCPA), assets owned by someone who dies without a will in New York must be accounted for in a probate estate and distributed according to law.
Since the decedent left no will, New York law will determine the disposition of all estate assets following the rules of intestate succession (NY EPTL, Section 4-1.1). Those rules dictate who has priority rights to claim inheritance and in what amount. In the absence of a will, the way in which assets are distributed after debts and taxes are paid is not affected in the least by the decedent’s wishes, however he might have expressed them – there was no Will.
No Will? — Who Controls the Estate?
When someone writes a will and executes it properly, they name the person they want to be the executor of estate. It is usually someone they trust unreservedly – a spouse, a long-time attorney, or a child. In cases with no will, the court appoints an “administrator” to oversee the management of the estate assets. In such a case, the Surrogate Court will issue Letters of Administration, documents attesting to that person’s authority to perform acts for the estate, subject to the court’s approval.
However, the process of petitioning the Surrogate Court for the Letters of Administration requires that formal notice be provided to all potential heirs, and entitles them to contest the petition, and to demand that a hearing be conducted before the administrator is appointed and empowered to act for the estate.
Limited Letters of Administration
While the petition seeking appointment as administer of the estate is pending, some actions may need to be taken immediately or without undue delay to preserve the assets, to assert a legal claim on the estate’s behalf before a statute of limitations expires, to investigate the existence or location of undiscovered estate property, and to conduct similarly necessary transactions.
Limited Letters of Administration are just that, documents granting limited powers to an administrator to perform the specific activities described in the official Limited Letters of Administration.
Examples of powers granted to a petitioner in Limited Letters of Administration include commencing a lawsuit but not agreeing to a settlement or settling a lawsuit but not distributing the proceeds. An heir might be issued Limited Letters of Administration to investigate suspected wrongdoing by a fiduciary handling the estate assets.
With Limited Letters of Administration, every responsible action can be taken that’s required to maximize the value of the estate, to preserve its assets, and to protect it from unjust or avoidable losses.
Who gets to be the administrator?
New York Surrogate Court Procedure Act § 1001 lists the persons who are given priority as preferred administrators when a decedent leaves no will.
1. Letters of Administration can only be issued to a person who fits the following eligibility requirements:
- at least 18 years old,
- mentally competent,
- not a convicted felon,
- citizen and resident of US (unless serving with an eligible co-fiduciary)
- possess the personal character consistent with fiduciary responsibility–honesty, sobriety (not substance dependent or habitual abuser) prudence, reliability
- otherwise not unfit (illiterate, too ill, etc.)
2. If eligible, the prospective administrator must also be a potential distributee, someone who stands to inherit some portion of the estate.
3. Among those who satisfy requirements 1 and 2, the Surrogate prioritizes selection of an administrator in the following order:
- surviving spouse,
- children of the deceased,
- grandchildren of the deceased
- parents of the deceased,
- siblings of the deceased.
The list of other priority administrators continues, covering scenarios when no “eligible” heirs exist, or when multiple fiduciaries represent ineligible heirs. In such cases, those who represent the interests of the heir with the largest interest in the estate take priority.
Ely J. Rosenzveig & Associates — Experienced Surrogate’s Court and Probate Lawyers
Experienced New York Surrogate’s Court lawyers know that even the closest families can suffer rifts when assets transfer from one generation to another in what some family members think to be an unfair distribution. These conflicts can be even more upsetting when a parent dies without a will, with a disorganized portfolio of assets, and no agreement on who should act as administrator.
The trusts and estates, elder law, and probate attorneys at Ely J. Rosenzveig & Associates can prepare and present an application for Limited Letters of Administration in your Surrogate Court matter in any New York county. Our concentration in estate and probate-related issues provides us with an advantage over less experienced counsel.
We are extremely proud of the quality of our work and our commitment to achieving and often exceeding our clients’ goals. Our mission of protecting and preserving intergenerational wealth has earned us an impeccable reputation among our clients and our colleagues. We value your trust and welcome your inquiries.