Estate Administration (Without a Will)

New York Estate Administration Lawyers Working with Administrators & Beneficiaries

When a person passes away without a will, it can be an uncertain time for everyone involved. Unless you have gone to law school (and, in many cases, even if you have), you may be completely unfamiliar with New York’s intestacy laws, which are the laws that control what happens to an estate when there is no will.

Fortunately, the lawyers of Goldfarb Abrandt & Salzman LLP are available to help you navigate this confusing time. We have over 25 years of experience helping estate administrators and beneficiaries navigate the estate administration process and work tirelessly to resolve any disputes that may arise as favorably as possible. To schedule a consultation with a New York estate administration attorney, call our office today at (212) 387-8400 or contact us online.

The Basics of Estate Administration Without a Will

A will is a document that indicates, among other things, what a person wants to happen with his or her assets. In addition, a will designates an executor, who is in charge of executing the terms of the will. The Surrogate’s court oversees this process, and the process itself is referred to as probate.

Before we get into what happens when there is no will, it is important to understand that not all of a decedent’s assets go through probate. For example, here are some assets that many people have that will pass directly to designated beneficiaries:

  • Property owned in joint tenancy or tenancy by the entirety
  • Funds in a bank account with a designated beneficiary
  • Retirement account funds with a named beneficiary
  • Any assets that are held in a living trust
  • Property that was transferred with a retained life estate

Property that does not pass directly to a decedent’s beneficiaries will need to go through probate. If there is not a will, however, the court will apply the state law of intestacy. Typically, this means that spouses, children, and other close relatives will inherit the decedent’s assets, with the amount they inherit directly related to how closely they were related.

Importantly, when there is not a will, the court will need to appoint an administrator of the estate. An administrator has similar duties as an executor; the main difference between the two positions is the way they are attained.

New York law controls who can administer an estate as well as the order of priority in which a court may appoint certain relatives. Under SPCA 1001, the order of priority is as follows:

  • A surviving spouse
  • The children
  • The grandchildren
  • The father or mother
  • The brothers or sisters
  • Any other persons who are distributees and who are eligible and qualify, preference being given to the person entitled to the largest share in the estate, except where
    • Eligible distributees are equally entitled to administer, in which case the court may grant letters of administration to one or more of such persons.
    • The distributees are issue of grandparents, other than aunts or uncles, on only one side, in which case letters of administration shall issue to the public administrator or chief financial officer of the county.

People who wish to act as the administrator may petition the court. You do not have to wait for the court to decide who to appoint. If you choose to do this, you must send notice of the petition to all potential heirs. You will not have authority to act on behalf of the estate until the court issues you Letters of Administration. The Court will often require the administrator to be bonded.

The Duties of an Administrator

Once a court has appointed someone administrator, they have several duties with respect to the estate. These include the following:

  • Collecting the estate’s assets – The administrator should collect and record all of the estate’s assets. In addition, he or she has a duty to keep those assets safe until he distributes the estate in full.
  • File inventory of assets with the surrogate’s court – The administrator must file an inventory of the assets with the surrogate’s court within six months of the date he or she received Letters of Administration.
  • File and pay taxes – The administrator must file tax returns on behalf of the estate and pay any taxes due.
  • Pay the debts of the estate – The administrator must look through financial records to determine the decedent’s debts.
  • Distribute assets to the heirs of the estate – Once the administrator pays the estate’s debts, he or she must distribute the remaining assets to the heirs of the estate in accordance with New York law. The administrator should get a signed receipt and release from each heir and file them with the Surrogate’s court.

An Attorney Can Provide Administrators With Significant Support

As the administrator of an estate in New York, you have a fiduciary duty to the heirs of the estate. This means that you could potentially be held liable if you made any mistakes at any step of the way. For this reason, many administrators seek assistance from an experienced New York estate administration attorney.

You can retain the lawyers of Goldfarb Abrandt & Salzman LLP to answer questions as they arise or to handle the entire estate administration process on your behalf. Best of all, you may use estate assets to pay for your legal fees related to estate administration, so you can minimize your legal liability and reduce the amount of time and energy it takes to administer the estate at no cost to you. Call us today to find out more about how we can help.

Call Goldfarb Abrandt & Salzman LLP Today to Schedule a Consultation with a New York Estate Attorney

If you have an interest in an estate where there is no will, you should contact an attorney as soon as you can. The estate administration lawyers of Goldfarb Abrandt & Salzman LLP are qualified to represent the legal rights of both beneficiaries and estate administrators and have more than 25 years of experience in legal practice. To schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys, call our office today at (212) 387-8400 or send us an email through our online contact form.