New York Wills and Trusts Require Careful Selection of Executors and Trustees

Executors, Trustees and Administrators in New York are commonly referred to as fiduciaries. Fiduciaries are the representatives of a trust or estate that are authorized by their appointment to act on behalf of the trust or estate.

The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has had many posts discussing actions of fiduciaries such as collecting assets, paying bills and taxes and making distributions of property. Whenever a Queens Executor or Manhattan Trustee or a fiduciary in any New York county performs his or her duties, they are required to follow and adhere to certain statutes and guidelines. New York Estates, Powers and Trusts Law (EPTL) Section 11-1.1 is entitled “Fiduciaries’ powers”. This statute sets forth many of the powers that are given to fiduciaries which include powers to: invest estate or trust property, manage or sell real estate, repair property and contest or settle claims. Generally, the powers provided by statute are quite extensive and a fiduciary is entrusted with using his or her judgment to exercise these powers in good faith. The statute also provides in paragraph (b) that the Court or the Will or Trust document can limit or provide contrary provisions to those stated in the statute.

As a New York Estate Lawyer, I have found that it is important for fiduciaries to fully understand and appreciate the responsibility that goes along with their appointment. Similarly, Estate Planning must include a thorough consideration of the qualifications of fiduciaries who are to be named by a Last Will, Living Trust or other document.

Acting as a fiduciary is not always easy and can involve the necessity of having to make difficult business decisions regarding an estate or trust asset. For example, issues may arise as to whether or not to sell shares of stock or real estate and at what price to sell. Investing assets, particularly in today’s volatile economic climate, is filled with uncertainty. The recent case of Matter of Boyer, decided by Surrogate James Pagones of the Dutchess County Surrogate’s Court on May 31, 2012 and reported in the New York Law Journal on June 26, 2012, shows some of the problems faced by fiduciaries.

In Boyer there were 3 trustees of a trust created under a decedent’s Last Will. Two of the three trustees desired to sell the decedent’s real estate which consisted of a farm. The 2 trustees also desired to evict the decedent’s friend from the property. Rather than move forward with these plans on their own, the trustees petitioned the Surrogate’s Court pursuant to Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act (“SCPA”) Section 2107, for direction from the Court.

SCPA 2107 is entitled “Court may direct as to value, manner and time of sale of property and give advice and direction in extraordinary circumstances.” Court’s are typically reluctant to substitute the Court’s judgment for that of a duly appointed fiduciary. Therefore, the Court in Boyer declined to advise the trustees as to whether and at what price the property should be sold and, instead, found that it was the trustees’ duty to exercise their own business judgment in deciding these issues.

Selecting the proper fiduciaries that will protect trust and estate property and beneficiaries’ interests is an important goal in estate planning. Trust and estate attorneys in New York help their clients in the process of selecting fiduciaries as well as providing guidance for fiduciaries who face tough administrative and estate settlement decisions.

An experienced New York trusts and estates lawyer can assist with guidance for proper Will and Trust preparation. New York Probate Attorney Jules Martin Haas, Esq. has been representing clients in Queens and Nassau and throughout New York State in Trusts and Estates matters and Surrogate’s Court proceedings for the past 30 years. If you or someone you know is involved with or has questions about a New York estate or trust or fiduciary issue, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 or email:, for an initial consultation.

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