Objections to a Fiduciary Accounting Cannot Be Conclusory

nycSurrogates-1The settlement of a New York estate is comprised of a number of stages.  At the outset, a determination must be made as to whether a decedent had a Last Will and Testament or died intestate.  This is important since the procedures to obtain Letters Testamentary in a probate proceeding, or Letters of Administration in an intestate administration proceeding, are different.  While this initial process appears uncomplicated, there are many cases where the determination as to whether a decedent left a Last Will to be probated is unclear.

First and foremost, a search needs to be performed to locate the original Will.  It may be that the document, if there is one, was retained by a decedent at home or with an attorney.  Sometimes, the only paper to be found is a copy of a Will.  This presents problems since it is very difficult to probate a copy of a Will.  Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act Section 1407 entitled “Proof of lost or destroyed will” contains specific rules regarding the probate of Wills which are lost.

Assuming that the issue regarding the appointment of an executor or administrator is resolved, the actual day-to-day management of the estate needs to be accomplished.  In this regard, assets need to be identified and collected.  Also, estate debts, claims and taxes must be dealt with and satisfied.  Depending upon the estate, some assets may present complicated issues, particularly where a decedent had various business or other valuable interests.  Valuation issues may arise if the estate is subject to Federal or New York State estate tax.  The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has published numerous articles concerning estate settlement.

The final phase of an estate involves the payment of estate assets to beneficiaries.  In this phase, the estate fiduciary is required to provide an accounting of his activities to the estate recipients.  A fiduciary accounting is prepared in a very specific format.  There are various schedules which contain information regarding the handling of the estate.  For example, one schedule contains information detailing assets which were received.  Another schedule specifies income received and other schedules have information regarding estate expenses, the computations of fiduciary commissions and the current balance of estate assets available for distribution.

Most often, beneficiaries will review an accounting and agree informally to accept the information and provide a release to the administrator or executor in order to receive their estate distribution.  In the event an informal resolution of the estate cannot be obtained, then the estate fiduciary must file a formal accounting proceeding with the Court to obtain judicial approval of the account.  When this occurs, beneficiaries can file objections to the account and the Surrogate’s Court will decide as to the validity of the filed objections.  However, objections to a fiduciary account must have specificity and factual foundation.  The Court will reject and dismiss objections that are just general in nature or do not have any factual justification.  There are procedures to obtain discovery and information from a fiduciary even before the filing of objections.

A recent Staten Island estate case in the Estate of Mary Neller, decided by Richmond County Surrogate Matthew J. Titone on May 28, 2024, involved a judicial accounting.  In this case, the Surrogate noted that an Objectant is required to show evidence that a fiduciary account is inaccurate or incomplete.  After reviewing the Court submissions, the Surrogate dismissed the Objections, finding that mere conclusory assertions failed to provide issues of fact for determination.

I have represented many clients in estate and accounting proceedings.  The assistance of an experienced trusts and estates attorney can be essential to succeeding in these matters.  Do you have a question regarding an estate or accounting matter?  Call Me Now for a free confidential review of your estate matter.  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.

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