Probate: New York Estate Administration & Probate – An Overview
After a loved one has died, there are many things that must be done. Assets must be gathered, bills must be paid and assets must be distributed. This process of managing a person’s affairs after death is known as estate administration.
The legal authority to manage these affairs is granted by the Surrogate’s Court, usually in the county where the person lived. Banks and other institutions where the decedent had accounts will not speak to you simply because you are a family member. You must be appointed by Surrogate’s Court as the legal representative of the estate (i.e., Executor or Administrator).
Where the decedent had a will, the will is presented to the Court in a Probate Proceeding. The representative appointed by the Court is called an Executor and the Court papers making him or her Executor are called Letters Testamentary.
If the decedent did not have a will, the Court case is called an Administration Proceeding and the representative is called an Administrator. The Court papers making that person the Administrator are called Letters of Administration. The proceedings are essentially the same and for simplification, we will simply refer to them as Probate Proceedings.
If no one steps forward to manage affairs, the county public administrator can step in and act as the Executor or Administrator. The public administrator, as all other fiduciaries, will charge a fee to the estate for this service.
Once appointed, the Executor or Administrator assumes the job of gathering assets, paying debts and distributing assets. This process is almost always done with the help of a probate attorney.
Before distributing the assets, however, the Executor or Administrator will report to the beneficiaries on what the Executor or Adminstrator has done and how he or she proposes to distribute the assets. The attorney for the Executor or Administrator will prepare an accounting of the assets, debts and proposed distribution. If beneficiaries agree with the account, then the estate is “settled” and the assets are distributed.