When a person dies it is common to refer to matters dealing with the decedent as issues concerning his “estate”. However, it is important to learn exactly what is meant by a person’s estate”. Upon death, an individual typically owns various assets. These may include real estate, bank accounts, brokerage accounts, individual retirement accounts, life insurance and pension benefits. All of these items comprise a decedent’s “gross estate”. However, a distinction needs to be drawn between the “gross estate” and a decedent’s estate for purposes of administration.
The assets owned by someone who dies that are held in his own name are going to be controlled by a person’s Last Will. If there is no Last Will, these items will be distributed according to the laws of intestacy. In these cases, the Surrogate’s Court appoints either an Executor or an Administrator. Assets that are held jointly or with a named beneficiary may be part of a decedent’s gross estate but are not part of the administration estate. The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has published many articles talking about the way various assets are transferred upon an individual’s death.
It is important to know that an Executor or Administrator is the only person authorized to deal with the affairs of the administration estate. The estate fiduciary has the power to collect assets, pay estate taxes and bills, sell estate property such as real estate and engage in estate litigation to resolve estate disputes. The estate beneficiaries do not have this authority unless they are the Court appointed fiduciary.