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The First Things that an Executor or Administrator Should Do

All of a sudden you are asked to be the Executor or Administrator of an estate.  Most people have never acted in such a capacity and do not have any experience as to the responsibilities and tasks that lie ahead.  They may be reluctant or even afraid to accept the appointment.  While taking on this role may appear to be daunting, moving forward one step at a time with proper information is the best way to proceed.  Here are a few initial suggestions.

  1. Do Some Research And Seek Professional Guidance. It never hurts to research the internet or other sources to learn about the role of an Administrator or Executor.  An Administrator is appointed when a person dies intestate without a Will.  An Executor is someone who is nominated in a Last Will and Testament. The appointment becomes official after the Will is admitted to probate. Other family members and friends may have been appointed in past matters and they can provide some insight.  Internet sources such as The New York Probate Lawyer Blog contain many articles explaining estate issues.  Also, Estate Lawyers can provide invaluable guidance and insight into the Surrogate’s Court process and how a fiduciary is appointed and estate settlement takes place.  I speak with many people each week regarding and discussing these issues.
  2. Understand The Need for An Estate Fiduciary. The fiduciary is basically the Chief Officer for an estate.  He or she collects the estate assets, pays the bills, taxes and expenses and ultimately distributes the assets to the estate beneficiaries in accordance with the estate laws and documents.  There are numerous fiduciary duties and obligations.  If the decedent owned real estate such as a residence, the fiduciary may need to sell the house and pay off a mortgage.  Bank accounts owned by the decedent need to be closed and an estate bank account must be created. The decedent’s affairs cannot be resolved without proper administration.  I handle all of these matters with my clients.
  3. Get Organized. It is very important to move forward with the settlement of an estate by establishing a plan.  Usually, preparing and filing the appropriate papers with the Surrogate’s Court is an initial step.  Accumulating and preserving information regarding the decedent’s affairs is also imperative from the start.  Collect and preserve papers and information concerning assets such as bank accounts, deeds, tax returns and other financial matters like credit card debts and mortgage statements.  Also, kinship information in the form of birth records, and death and marriage certificates may be needed to identify the persons who have an interest in the estate.  Sometimes a professional genealogist is needed to establish kinship.  I always advise my clients to photocopy and keep all the papers they come across.  You never know what may be important once the estate progresses.  Communicate all information to the estate attorney and create a filing system to retrieve papers that are found.  Many times, a decedent’s home has documents scattered all over the place.  It may take a lot of time and effort to sort this out but in the end the effort is worth it for a successful administration of an estate.
  4. Stay Calm and Professional. The estate fiduciary may be subject to numerous contacts and demands from family members and the decedent’s creditors, just to name a few of the parties interested in estate matters.  While it may at first seem overwhelming to the new fiduciary, each issue should be dealt with in its own time and in a proper manner.  The fiduciary has an obligation to treat all parties fairly and to act in accordance with the estate laws.  Outside parties may want actions to be taken that are not necessarily prudent or appropriate.  The fiduciary needs to consider each issue and act according to his fiduciary obligations.

The above are just a few considerations to be taken into account.  I have represented hundreds of executors and administrators during the past 40 years.  Each estate presents its own unique set of concerns and requirements.  I work closely with my clients to achieve a successful and stress-free outcome.  Call me now for a free 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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