When a family member dies, many questions and challenges arise. There are emotional hurdles as well as logistical ones. Families must manage the grief and sadness of a personal loss, while also addressing legal and financial concerns. It can feel overwhelming, and families are often unsure of how to proceed. Clients often worry that probate will be time-consuming and expensive, or that those in charge may not be protecting the best interests of the estate. It is true that probate can be confusing and costly if not handled properly but, if properly navigated, the process can be efficient and cost-effective. Clients often tell us they are able to come to terms with the death of a loved only after the legal and financial issues have been resolved.

What Is Probate?

Probate generally refers to the legal process of appointing a representative to manage a deceased person's estate in accordance with that person’s wishes. Where there is a last will and testament, the court proceeding is referred to as "probate" and includes a judicial determination of the validity of a will. Where there is no will, the proceeding is referred to as "administration." Both proceedings are used to accomplish the same essential purpose of appointing a representative to manage the estate.

In New York, in order to appoint an estate representative (executor or administrator), one must petition the Surrogate’s Court. From the smallest estate to the most complex, an estate representative must be approved in Surrogate’s Court. The proceeding starts with a petition, which should be accompanied by varying supporting documents depending on the situation. Notice of the proceeding must be provided to those who are entitled. The Surrogate reviews the application and, if acceptable, a decree is issued appointing the executor or administrator.

Aid for New York Executors and Administrators

The estate representative is the person who is tasked with managing the estate. The executor or administrator has an obligation to act prudently and in the best interest of the estate and its beneficiaries. Duties may include:

  • Collecting estate assets
  • Making an inventory of all assets
  • Paying debts
  • Managing assets and investments during administration
  • Accounting for all actions taken as executor or administrator
  • Distributing the estate property to the appropriate heirs or beneficiaries

The executor is nominated in the decedent's will. If there is no will, or if no nominated executor is willing and able to act, then there is a strict order as to who may serve as the representative of the estate. Certain people, such as felons, minors, and non-domicilliary-aliens, are ineligible to serve. Others may be disqualified on the basis of dishonesty, imprudence, or where the person is otherwise unfit.

Executors and administrators must administer the estate according to law. If they do not, then they are liable for the damage caused by their negligence or intentional misconduct. This liability increases the importance of knowledgeable legal counsel.

At Antonelli, & Antonelli, our legal team is experienced in probate--start to finish. We get estate representatives appointed in a timely manner. We guide them through the administration of the estate. And we prepare accountings to demonstrate that the executor or administrator has done the job properly. When a formal, judicial accounting is necessary, we represent clients before the New York State Surrogate's Courts to obtain a final decree, and the court's seal of approval. 

Understand Your Rights as a Beneficiary or Creditor in New York

Those on the other side of the process--those not in charge of the estate--can feel powerless if the executor does not communicate effectively. However, beneficiaries and creditors have rights. Those rights range from the simple right to information, to the right to receive the property to which they are entitled under the law. Whether you are simply unsure about the process or you worry the executor is not correctly doing his job, you can monitor the situation. In these situations, we help clients keep track of the administration process to ensure they receive what they are entitled to in a timely manner.

Where the executor is has already engaged in misconduct, it is critical for beneficiaries to intervene. We represent clients in litigating claims against executors such as compelling distributions, compelling the executor to account, and in removing the executor when appropriate.

Do You Need Legal Help Regarding Probate Issues In The New York Metro Area?

If a loved one died without a will and you need legal assistance regarding the probate process you should be speak with an experienced probate attorney as soon as possible. Contact us online or call our New York City office directly at 212.227.2424 to schedule your free consultation. We proudly serve clients throughout New York and northern New Jersey including Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island, The Bronx, Nassau County and Westchester County.

Daniel R. Antonelli
Representing trust & estate clients with an emphasis on estate litigation in the New York City Metro Area.