The estate settlement process in New York can be viewed as having three parts. At the outset, there are proceedings for the appointment of an estate fiduciary. If a decedent dies with a Last Will and Testament, then a probate case is filed in the Surrogate’s Court. When there is no Will, a decedent is deemed to have died intestate and a proceeding for letters of administration is commenced. Both probate and intestate administration matters may be very complicated and take a great deal of time to complete. Issues concerning will contests and kinship determination involve extensive estate litigation. The New York Probate Lawyer Blog contains many articles discussing probate, intestacy and Surrogate’s Court matters.
The second part of estate settlement involves the actual administrative acts to complete the estate. These include identification and collection of assets and reviewing and finalizing debts and claims. Also, a fiduciary may need to prepare and file tax returns concerning income tax and estate tax. Sometimes there are litigation issues relating to the decedent’s creditors or business affairs.
Finally, in order to close the estate, a fiduciary must provide the estate beneficiaries with an accounting of his actions. An accounting contains all the information regarding the amounts collected and disbursed during the administrative period. Most estates are settled informally. This means that the beneficiaries receive an accounting and sign a release form without the necessity of a formal accounting proceeding in the Surrogate’s Court. However, there are times when a formal Court accounting case is required. During the accounting proceeding, the Court may consider many different types of issues and objections. These can range from objections regarding expenditures by the fiduciary to kinship issues and matters regarding claims by a third party. In effect, the accounting proceeding is the vehicle by which all estate matters can be concluded so that a final distribution can be made to beneficiaries and an estate can be closed.
An example of the type of matters that can be dealt with in an accounting was recently provided in a Brooklyn estate case. The accounting was transferred to New York Surrogate Nora Anderson for determination. In a decision dated May 31, 2022 in Estate of O’Leary, the Surrogate denied a motion for summary judgment being sought by an objectant to the accounting. One of the issues involved an insurance policy which was paid directly to the executor who was the named beneficiary on the policy. The objectant claimed that it was the decedent’s intention that the beneficiary use the insurance proceeds to pay the decedent’s funeral bill. Since there was only circumstantial evidence presented in support of this claim, the Court denied summary judgment.
I have represented many individuals in estate accounting cases in the Surrogate’s Court. These matters can be complicated and the assistance of an experienced estate lawyer can be essential. Call Me Now for a free confidential review of your estate issue. We offer reasonable and flexible fee arrangements and personal representation.
New York Trusts and Estates Attorney Jules Martin Haas has helped many clients over the past 40 years resolve issues relating to guardianship and probate and estate settlement throughout New York City including the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Nassau and Suffolk County. If you or someone you know has any questions regarding these matters, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 for an initial free consultation.