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.