Estate administration is the process of managing and distributing a person’s assets (the “estate”) after death. If you pass with a will, the will goes to probate through the surrogate’s court. Probate is simply the process in which the decedent’s property is passed to the living (the heirs and legatees which are the people named in the will) by virtue of the intervention of surrogates’ court. The entire probate process is supervised by the surrogate’s court. If there is no litigation or other estate issues; probate can take up to a year or more. However, it may be possible that substantial distributions from the estate can be made in the interim. Make an appointment with one of the estate planning attorneys at The Christine Thea Rubinstein Law Firm today to discuss your legal options and your legal rights over the estate. Work with a reputable estate planning attorney to make sure the estate was structured correctly and that the proper beneficiaries will receive the real estate assets and liquid funds that your family member has intended to passed down. The attorneys at The Christine Thea Rubinstein Law Firm are not only trained in handling simple estate administration, will and probate administration matters, we take care of complex will and living trust estate litigation in Nassau County, Suffolk County, Queens County, Bronx, Westchester, Richmond County, Manhattan and Brooklyn Kings County New York.
The emotional trauma brought on by the death of a close family member often is accompanied by bewilderment about the financial and legal steps the survivors must take. The spouse who passed away may have handled all of the couple’s finances. Or perhaps a child must begin taking care of probating an estate about which he or she knows little about. And this task may come on top of commitments to family and work that can’t be set aside. Finally, the estate itself may be in disarray or distributed among many accounts, which is not unusual with a generation that saw banks collapse during the great economic depression.
During the estate administration process we outline the steps the surviving family members should take. These responsibilities ultimately fall on whoever was appointed executor or executrix in the deceased family member’s will. Matters can be a bit more complicated in the absence of a will, because it may not be clear who has the responsibility of carrying out these steps. The attorneys at The Christine Thea Rubinstein Law Firm are there for you and your family to help you navigate through the entire process.
First, secure the tangible property. This means anything you can touch, such as silverware, dishes, furniture, or artwork. You will need to determine accurate values of each piece of property, which may require appraisals, and then distribute the property as the deceased directed. If property is passed around to family members before you have the opportunity to take an inventory, this will become a difficult, if not impossible, task. Of course, this does not apply to gifts the deceased may have made during life, which will not be part of his or her estate.
Second, take your time. You do not need to take any other steps immediately. While bills do need to be paid, they can wait a month or two without adverse repercussions. It’s more important that you and your family have time to grieve. Financial matters can wait. (One exception: Social Security should be notified within a month of death. If checks are issued following death, you could be facing fines.)
When you’re ready, but not a day sooner, meet with an elder law and estate planning attorney to review the steps necessary to administer the deceased’s estate. Bring as much information as possible about finances, taxes and debts. Don’t worry about putting the papers in order first; any experience lawyer will help you with the organizing and understanding any confusing financial statement
Estate administration in general, include the following steps:
- Filing the will and petition of probate at the surrogate’s court in order to be appointed executor or personal representative. In the absence of a will, heirs must petition the surrogate’s court to be appointed “administrator” of the estate.
- Marshalling, or collecting, the assets. This means that you have to find out everything the deceased had owned. You need to file a list, known as a probate “inventory list,” with the surrogate’s court. It is generally best to consolidate all the estate funds to the extent possible. Bills and bequests should be paid from a single checking account (called the estate account), either you establish one or have one set up by your attorney, so that you can keep track of all estate expenditures.
- Paying bills and taxes. If a state or federal estate tax return is needed (generally if the estate exceeds $2 million in value) it must be filed within nine months of the date of death. If you miss this deadline and the estate is taxable, severe penalties and interest may apply. If you do not have all the information available in time, you can file for an extension and pay your best estimate of the tax due.
- Filing tax returns. You must also file a final decedent’s income tax return for the decedent and, if the estate holds any assets and earns interest or dividends, then an estate income tax return for the estate must be filed. If the estate does earn income during the administration process, it will have to obtain its own estate tax identification number in order to keep track of such earnings.
- Distributing property to the heirs and legatees. Generally, executors do not pay out all of the estate assets until the period runs out for creditors to make claims, which can be as long as a year after the date of death. But once the executor understands the estate and the likely claims, he or she can distribute most of the assets, retaining a reserve for unanticipated claims and the costs of closing out the estate.
- Filing a final account. The executor must file an account with the surrogate’s court listing any income to the estate since the date of death and all expenses and estate distributions. Once the court approves this final account during probate, the executor can distribute whatever is left in the closing reserve, and finish his or her work.
Some of these steps can be eliminated by avoiding probate through proper estate planning, and living trusts. But whoever is left in charge still has to pay all debts, file tax returns, and distribute the property to the rightful heirs. You can make it easier for your heirs by keeping good records of the decedent’s assets and liabilities.
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About the Website of The Christine Thea Rubinstein Law Firm and the legal information on the screen above: We hope you find this information useful and informative, but it is not the same as legal counsel. A free website is ultimately worth everything it costs you; you rely on it at your own risk. This website and any other website on this legal topic does not substitute real legal advice, face to face with an attorney. Good legal advice includes a review of all of the facts of your situation, including many that may at first glance seem to you not to matter. The plan it generates is sensitive to your goals and wishes while taking into account a whole panoply of laws, rules and practices, many not published online. Speak with an attorney today to help resolve any legal issues that you and your family may be facing.
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Call 1-800-200-1529 today.
You should know you have certain legal rights and must be very selective of the lawyer or law firm that you chose to represent you. Have an attorney council you on the right decision for you and your family.