Oct 7, 2022 New York Estate Administration Checklist
If you are named as the executor of a person’s will, or you plan to administer the estate of someone who died without a will, you will be assuming a role of great responsibility as an estate fiduciary. How you perform your new duties will be subject to the oversight of the New York Surrogate’s Court, and the scrutiny of all those who stand to benefit from the decedent’s estate.
To assist you in understanding the general obligations of executors and administrators of estates in New York, Ely J. Rosenzveig & Associates created this checklist outlining the key tasks you will need to complete to fulfill your assignment. Engaging an experienced probate attorney to assist you is always a good idea to ensure that the process is carried out in full compliance with New York law, and in the best interest of all concerned.
Executor or Administrator — What’s the Difference?
The main difference between an executor or an administrator is the existence of a will. If the decedent left a will, they (the testator / testatrix) usually name one person to “execute” the will – to make sure their estate is managed, and its assets distributed in accordance with the testator’s / testatrix’s directions specified in the will. A co-executor (executrix) can be named to share in the estate administration responsibilities. An alternative or successor executor (executrix) can also be named in case the person first nominated cannot or will not serve.
When a person dies without leaving a will (intestate), someone must request appointment by the Surrogate’s Court to “administer” the estate assets in compliance with the New York laws of “intestate succession.” Typically, the administrator / administratrix appointed is the closest relative of the deceased who will receive a benefit from the estate as a matter of statutory law (intestate statute). If no one seeks appointment, or they do not qualify, then the court will appoint a person it deems fit and appropriate.
Because the general obligations of executors and administrators is the same, our checklist will refer only to administrators. While executors follow the same steps, the will they execute may include orders specific only to the individual decedent’s will.
NOTE: Small Estate Administration
If a decedent’s assets are valued under $50,000, then it may be unnecessary to open a formal probate proceeding for the will or seek formal appointment as administrator without a will. Instead, New York law permits a “voluntary administrator” to carry out equivalent duties for a Small Estate after filing an affidavit, sending a notice to those in line to receive a benefit, providing an accounting of assets, and paying a $1 filing fee. Attorneys knowledgeable about New York probate law and practice will be able to provide you with valuable guidance if these or any other special circumstances apply to your case. The small estate administration process is much simpler and less expensive than going through the standard Surrogate’s Court process.
New York Estate Administration Checklist
- The first step in the process of administering an estate is to file a petition with the Surrogate’s Court requesting appointment as the estate’s administrator. The petition must be accompanied by notice to all heirs or beneficiaries of the estate, or a signed waiver from each of them waiving any objections to opening of the estate and the appointment of petitioner as administrator.
- The administrator may be required to obtain a bond which is an insurance policy that would cover damages to the estate or its beneficiaries in the event of the administrator’s negligence or wrongdoing in carrying out their duties. Without such a bond, you may incur personal liability as estate administrator for losses to the estate resulting from your service as fiduciary to the estate and its beneficiaries.
The Surrogate’s Court can issue temporary letters testamentary; documents officially recognizing the administrator’s authority to identify and marshal for the estate all the decedent’s assets. Until the court grants full or permanent administration authority, no disbursements can be made unless the court approves it. The court will issue full authority to the administrator when challenges to their appointment, if any, are resolved.
- Identify and locate all the decedent’s assets so the estate may take custody of them and take any steps needed to preserve or manage them during the court process. To locate where such assets might exist, gather the important documents the decedent may have kept, or which are officially recorded:
- marriage certificate
- divorce decree or separation agreement
- prenuptial agreement
- trusts the testator created or for which they were trustee
- bank account passbooks and safe deposit box keys
- financial statements and tax returns
- Social Security number
- medical records
- cemetery plot deed or cremation instructions
- Establish a checking account in the estate’s name.
- Notify the decedent’s known creditors who may have a claim against the estate’s assets, and arrange for a legal notice to unknown creditors to be published in a newspaper of general circulation.
- Pay all valid and enforceable estate debts and creditor obligations, beginning with those generated for the funeral and the last illness medical care. Priority must be given to estate generated expenses, including attorney fees, the costs of appraising and accounting related to estate assets, and court filing fees. (Maintain detailed records of all financial transactions both estate income and expenditures.)
- Obtain appraisals of any real estate owned by the decedent at the time of their death, and prepare a full catalogue of all stocks, bonds, accounts, annuities, equities, or other income producing assets.
- Have the decedent’s final tax returns prepared. Depending on the value of the estate’s assets, the State of New York and the I.R.S. (federal) may be owed estate and/or gift taxes. For 2022, unless the estate’s value exceeds $6.11 million, no New York estate tax is likely. No federal estate taxes are likely unless the estate’s assets exceed $12.06 million.
- Prepare a complete accounting for the estate’s assets and all transactions made. The accounting will be examined by the court and by each of the heirs and beneficiaries. Evidence of either mismanagement or incompetence may result in litigation against the administrator. This is why working with an experienced probate attorney who concentrates in estate administration is so valuable.
- Prepare to distribute the assets to the beneficiaries under either the terms of the will or the laws of intestate succession. This requires the preparation of documents to record the transactions, receipts, and releases to be signed by those to whom assets are distributed.
- Distribute the estate’s remaining assets.
- As a last official act, petition the court to close the estate. The court’s final closing of the estate ends the proceedings and relieves the administrator of any further fiduciary obligations.
Seek an Experienced Probate Attorney’s Assistance
As you can see, the duties of an estate executor or administrator can be quite complicated. Using a skilled New York probate and estate lawyer with extensive experience handling the entire Surrogate’s Court process, who can guide you through this morass of legal and financial transactions and protocols is essential to streamlining the probate process, securing and distributing estate assets as quickly as possible, safeguarding the estate from avoidable tax and other expensive pitfalls, and avoiding unfounded claims questioning your actions as the estate fiduciary.
Ely J. Rosenzveig & Associates has decades of experience helping families and individuals navigate the New York probate process in their roles as estate administrators, executors, beneficiaries, or heirs. If you have questions relating to any New York estate or probate matter, contact Ely J. Rosenzveig & Associates today.