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Estate Administration: A Beginner’s Guide

December 9, 2016

estate administration

The world of estate administration is a scary place for many people.  A loved one has just passed away and you find yourself in a financial mess of bank accounts, retirement accounts, life insurance policies, creditors submitting claims against your loved one as well as a mountain of paperwork that needs to be completed.  This overwhelming situation is why many individuals will retain the services of an estate administration attorney in order to ease some of the burden during an already-stressful time.

To help you navigate the confusing elements of estate administration, following is a timeline of events that you can expect after the passing of your loved one:

Step 1. Planning and Execution of Funeral Plans. Ensure that the appropriate funeral plan is executed and that the final resting wishes of your loved one have been honored.  This information can usually be obtained from the funeral home directly or from a variety of legal documents that your loved one may have drafted prior to his/her passing.

Step 2. Meet With Attorney.  During your initial meeting you should expect to discuss the distribution scheme that was set forth in your loved one’s Last Will and Testament or if your loved one passed away without a Last Will and Testament, the distribution scheme that is set forth pursuant to New York State law.  After this initial discussion, your attorney should review your loved one’s assets, specifically pointing out which of those assets are probate and which are non-probate.

Probate – assets solely in the name of the deceased loved one; Court permission will be required in order to access these assets and liquidate/transfer them to the appropriate beneficiaries

Non-Probate – assets held jointly with another person and/or accounts that list named beneficiaries; Court permission is not required to liquidate/transfer these accounts to their new owner.

Step 3. Prepare and Sign Petition for Probate. Your attorney will then begin collecting information so that he/she can assemble the Petition for Probate which will allow you to access your loved one’s probate assets.  The Petition will require the following information:

  1. Name, Address, Telephone Number and Relation of Proposed Executor
  2. Decedent’s Passing Information (obtained from death certificate);
  3. Names and Addresses of all interested parties (i.e. anyone who has a familial relationship with your loved one who passed away)
  4. Names and Addresses of all non-interested parties who may have been included in your loved one’s Last Will and Testament (i.e. the names and addresses of charities and/or friends and relatives of the decedent who are not deemed to be interested parties).
  5. An estimation of your loved one’s net worth at the time that he/she passed away.

Prepare and Mail Waivers of Process; Consents to Probate.  Waivers will be prepared by your attorney and mailed to all interested parties in the estate action along with a copy of your loved one’s Last Will and Testament.  These Waivers state that those interested parties have no objection to the probate of your loved one’s Last Will and Testament and that they are in support of supporting the Proposed Executor as the Executor of your loved one’s estate.  If these Waivers are not signed by the interested parties, the local Surrogate’s Court will set forth a Court date where these individuals may appear before the Judge in order to state any objections that they may have.

Prepare and Mail Notice of Probate. A Notice of Probate will be sent to all non-interested parties along with a copy of your loved one’s Last Will and Testament.  The notice will merely “notify” these individuals that the Will is being offered for probate and that further contact will be made with these beneficiaries once the estate is ready to close.

Step 4. E-File All Documentation With Local Surrogate’s Court. Your attorney will scan all documentation and file it with the appropriate Surrogate’s Court.  Due to the workload of local Surrogate’s Court, processing of this documentation may take up to 8-10 weeks after filing.

Step 5. Court Issues Letter Testamentary.  Letters Testamentary are the formal document of appointment of an Executor that the Surrogate’s Court issues which authorizes the Executor to administer and settle his/her loved one’s estate.

Step 6. Obtain Estate’s Tax Identification Number. Your attorney will obtain a tax identification number that is attributable to your loved one’s newly opened estate.  This tax identification number is used to open an estate bank account at a local bank branch of your choosing so that you can begin to pay all estate related expenses and debts.

Step 7. Executor Opens Estate Bank Account and Pays All Debts and Fees

Step 8. 7 Month Lapse – Prepare and File Inventory of Assets with Surrogate’s Court. The estate itself must remain open for 7 months in order to ensure that all creditors have made any claims against your loved one’s estate.  Once this 7 month period has expired, your attorney must help you obtain date of death valuations for all of your loved one’s assets (both probate and non-probate) in order to ensure that the proper Court filing fee was paid and whether or not any estate taxes may be due.

Step 9-A. Filing of Estate Tax Returns.  Note that estate tax returns must be filed within 9 months of a decedent’s passing.  Generally speaking, an estate tax return would be required in the following instances:

If decedent passed away prior to 04/01/2014 an estate tax return would be required if the estate is valued at $1,000,000 or above.

If decedent passed away on or after 04/01/2014, and on or before 03/31/2015, an estate tax return would be required if the estate is valued at $2,062,500 or above.

If decedent passed away on or after 04/01/2015, and on or before 03/31/2016, an estate tax return would be required if the estate is valued at $3,125,000 or above.

If decedent passed away on or after 04/01/2016, and on or before 03/31/2017, an estate tax return would be required if the estate is valued at $4,187,500 or above.

If decedent passed away on or after 04/01/2017, and on or before 03/31/2018, an estate tax return would be required if the estate is valued at $5,250,000 or above.

Step 9-B. Filing of Fiduciary Income Tax Returns.  These returns are required to be filed indicating that amount of income that your loved one’s estate has earned over the previous year.

Step 10. Prepare Estate Accounting and Releases.  During this phase, your attorney will draft an accounting of all estate assets from date of death through the present, noting receipts of income and payment of expenses.  This accounting is sent to all estate beneficiaries along with a Release which, when signed, indicates that the beneficiaries have received their inheritance, are accepting of the estate accounting and have released the Executor from their duties and responsibilities as the fiduciary of the estate.

Step 11. Final Distribution of Assets and Affidavit By Fiduciary.  All final payouts are made to the estate beneficiaries once their Release has been received and the Executor signs a statement claiming that all documents have been filed, all debts, taxes and fees have been paid and that all requirements of the Court have been met.  This document is filed with the local Surrogate’s Court.

Step 12 Estate is Closed.

As you can see by this timeline, the world of estate administration can be very complicated and confusing.  The right estate plan can help prevent some of the unnecessary delays and stresses that can arise during estate administration.

If you or a family member are in need of an estate administration attorney, please contact our office to schedule your initial, free consultation.

Related Topics: Estate Planning

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