There are a number of aspects to the settlement of an estate. The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has examined these matters in detail in many earlier posts. The first stage of an estate is to obtain the appointment of a fiduciary. This involves a petition to appoint an executor or administrator. An executor is appointed when a decedent leaves a Last Will and Testament. If there is no Will, a person dies intestate and the Court appoints an administrator. The Estates Powers and Trusts Law and the Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act contain an extensive array of statutes regarding the manner by which an estate fiduciary can be appointed.
The next stage concerning the settlement of an estate deals with the collection of estate assets and the payment of debts, claims and other administration expenses. Of course, each estate is different and some situations may involve Surrogate’s Court litigation of contested claims, or the sale of a decedent’s real estate, the payment of estate or income taxes or the collection of assets from various bank accounts and other financial holdings.
The third and final part of settlement is known as the accounting stage. A fiduciary such as an administrator or executor must prepare a detailed accounting of his activities. This accounting shows the various assets which were collected, the amounts paid or expended and the value of the assets remaining on hand to be distributed to the beneficiaries. The parties who are interested in an estate have a right to receive and review an accounting. Objections to an accounting can be made if any actions or transactions are disputed. When a fiduciary fails to provide a proper accounting, a beneficiary or interested party may commence a proceeding in the Surrogate’s Court to compel or force the fiduciary to file an accounting. SCPA § 2205 entitled “Compulsory account and related relief on a court’s own initiative or on petition; who may petition” provides the authority for requiring an accounting. Compelling an accounting is a very effective way for a person who is to receive an estate benefit to force the fiduciary to complete estate administration and to distribute assets.