It is hard enough to lose a loved one. But then to be faced with the technicalities and procedures of handling their estate can be truly overwhelming. As part of our holistic philosophy, we work closely with the Executors and Administrators of our clients’ estates to actively assist with organizing financial and family information, marshaling assets of the estate, settling all debts and tax obligations, preparing state and federal estate tax returns and preparing formal and informal accountings for presentation to the estate beneficiaries. In most cases this requires bringing in co-counsel attorneys to assist in this process.

It is common for clients to feel overwhelmed by the complexities and unfamiliarity of handling a loved one’s estate. We patiently and compassionately guide our clients through each step of the process and are always willing to explain, in plain English, what is required and how best to meet those requirements. We pride ourselves in finding co-counsel who we know will work best with a particular client or circumstance. We will then offer “behind the scenes” support for our clients, as they make their way through the complexities.

Probate and Administration Proceedings

Probate is the process of filing and validating a deceased person’s Will in the appropriate court. It is crucial to handle the probate proceeding in accordance with the strict rules and procedures of New York law. The end result of a probate proceeding is the formal appointment of the Executor(s) and (if applicable) Trustee(s) designated in the deceased person’s Will. However, it is only the first step in handling a deceased estate.

In most cases, the probate proceeding is completed within a matter of several weeks. However, it can take longer if, for example, there are missing or unknown legal heirs or if there is a challenge to the validity of the Will. The best way to achieve a smooth and easy probate proceeding is proper planning during the individual’s lifetime.

If a person dies without a Will, instead of a probate proceeding there is an Administration Proceeding, which results in one or more family members being appointed to serve as the Administrator(s) of the estate.

An administration proceeding typically takes longer than a probate proceeding because family members who are entitled to serve as administrators and share in the estate must be identified to the court’s satisfaction, and a surety bond must be obtained to secure the administrator’s faithful performance. In some cases, if there are no relatives closer than a first cousin, the court will appoint the Public Administrator instead of a family member. Unfortunately, an unmarried partner (who is not a legally recognized spouse) has no standing to serve as administrator of their deceased partner’s estate.

Estate administration

Once appointed by the court, the Executor(s) or Administrator(s) duties typically include:

Identifying and inventorying the estate’s assets and obtaining appraisals
Paying all debts the deceased owed at the time of death
Opening safe deposit boxes and inventorying contents
Closing the deceased’s bank accounts
Winding down any businesses owned by the deceased
Collecting any debts owed to the deceased
Ascertaining whether there are employment benefits payable to beneficiaries or to the estate itself
Filing the deceased’s final personal income tax returns
Filing any other taxes required including state or federal estate taxes
Keeping the beneficiaries informed regarding actions taken on behalf of the estate
Distributing the assets to the beneficiaries of the estate

Probate alternatives

Not everything has to go through probate. Probate does not affect:

Beneficiary designations on retirement accounts, life insurance policies, and so forth
Accounts designated as “payable on death”, “transfer on death” or “in trust for” designated beneficiaries
Joint accounts
Ownership of real estate or coops designated as “joint tenants with rights of survivorship” or “tenants by the entirety”.
Living Trusts that were funded during the deceased’s lifetime can avoid probate if they include provisions for distribution after the grantor’s death.

For further information, please don’t hesitate to contact Carol L. Buell Law & Mediation, PLLC by phone at 212-967-5710 or by using our contact form.