After suffering the loss of a loved one, you deserve time to heal without worrying about the stress of settling their estate. At Alatsas Law Firm, our Brooklyn estate planning attorney provides estate, probate, and trust administration services that will ensure your loved one’s estate is settled in a timely fashion and in full accordance with New York law.
Settling the Estate of Someone Who Has Died Without a Will
When someone passes away without a valid Last Will and Testament, they are said to have died intestate. New York's intestate succession laws will determine how their assets are distributed. Typically, intestate succession laws favor the closest living blood relatives, such as a spouse parent, or child. An executor of the estate is appointed by the court. If the deceased had minor children at home, the court must also step in to appoint a suitable legal guardian.
A spouse or close relatives of the deceased can file a petition with the court to ask to be appointed as the executor of the estate. The proceeding to settle the estate of someone who died without a will is called an administration. If the decedent had less than $50,000 in personal property, it is called a small estate or voluntary administration proceeding.
The term probate refers to the legal process of settling a person's affairs after they have passed away. Typically, the probate process involves the following steps:
- Proving that the Last Will and Testament is legally valid
- Creating an inventory of the deceased person's property
- Obtaining any necessary appraisals of valuable items, such as antiques or collectibles
- Paying outstanding debts
- Filing returns and paying necessary state and federal taxes
- Distributing the remaining assets to beneficiaries in accordance with the terms of the will
Assets with listed beneficiary designations, such as investment accounts, retirement accounts, and life insurance proceeds, do not need to go through the probate process. They are distributed according to their previously determined beneficiary designations.
As the executor of the estate, you are not expected to handle the probate process on your own. You are allowed to hire an attorney who can serve as a liaison between you and the probate court. The legal fees associated with the service can be paid from the estate before the remaining assets are distributed to the listed beneficiaries.
8 Steps to Administering a Trust
The person who is in charge of managing trust property according to the trust document terms is referred to as the trustee. The most common type of trust used in estate planning is a revocable living trust, where a successor trustee assumes control after the grantor who created the trust has passed away.
Administration of a trust typically involves the following steps:
- Providing mandatory notice of the trustor creator’s death to all listed beneficiaries and heirs
- Transferring applicable property titles from the deceased person to the new successor trustee
- Transferring bank and investment accounts into the successor trustee's name
- Obtaining a federal tax identification number on behalf of the trust to make sure any income earned by trust assets is directly reported to the IRS
- Filing a tax return as required by law
- Paying debts and satisfying outstanding liabilities
- Distributing trust assets according to the terms of the trust
- Maintaining complete and accurate records of all trust activity, including applicable deposits and distributions to beneficiaries
Assets that are held in a trust are not required to go through the New York probate process, but you’ll notice that some of the steps associated with trust administration are very similar to what is done during probate. The trustee is allowed to hire an attorney to assist with the administration of the trust and to pay legal fees from the trust assets.