The settlement of a New York estate can be divided into three main parts. The estate can begin with proceedings to probate a Will and appoint an Executor. If there is no Will and the decedent died intestate, then a petition can be filed to appoint an Administrator. Once the estate fiduciary is appointed the next stage involves the task of identifying and collecting assets, determining and resolving debts and claims and paying estate expenses such as taxes which include both income and estate taxes. Of course, both of the above stages can be complicated by various forms of issues and estate litigation involving a Will contest, a kinship hearing or other disputes. These controversies may delay the appointment of a fiduciary and the resolution of estate affairs.
Once the estate activities have been concluded, the time has come for the fiduciary to prepare his accounting and make a distribution to the beneficiaries. In most instances the beneficiaries will receive a copy of the account along with a form entitled “Receipt, Release and Waiver and Refunding Agreement” or some variation thereof. Essentially, the form will provide that the beneficiary approves of the account and releases the fiduciary from further liability regarding the estate. If all of the interested parties sign a release form, the estate executor or administrator will not have to file a formal accounting proceeding in the Surrogate’s Court to obtain the approval of his account. This informal method of accounting results in less time and cost for the finalization of the decedent’s affairs. If any of the beneficiaries have any questions regarding the account they can ask the fiduciary directly to respond to their inquiry. Also, if a beneficiary wants to review any of the estate papers such as bank account statements or an estate tax return, such paper can be requested from the executor or administrator.In a recent case decided by Nassau Surrogate Edward McCarty, III on September 30, 2014 entitled, Will of Spacek, an executor had obtained release forms from the beneficiaries. In Spacek one of the persons who had signed the form then asked the Court to void the release on the ground that she claimed she had been misled into signing the form. The Court found that there was no wrongdoing and upheld the validity of the release.
In most estates obtaining an informal settlement is the less costly and expeditious way to proceed. Some estates require formal accounting proceedings where there are important issues regarding a breach of fiduciary duty by a fiduciary or issues regarding kinship or construction of a Will. Sometimes it is not possible to obtain the agreement of the parties due to other issues such as asset valuations and the amount of claimed estate expenses. I have represented both fiduciaries and beneficiaries in many proceedings and situations concerning the settlement of a final account. Call me now if you have any questions or concerns regarding matters relating to estate settlement and Executor’s accountings or Administrator’s accountings.
New York Probate Attorney Jules Martin Haas has helped many clients over the past 30 years resolve issues relating to Probate, Administration and estate settlement throughout New York City including Brooklyn and Queens. If you or someone you know has any questions regarding these matters, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 for an initial consultation.
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