When a loved one dies in New York without a will, you may find yourself responsible for handling their estate through administration proceedings. The process can seem daunting, but this guide provides the key steps to help you navigate it successfully. We cover what administration is, whether you need to petition for it, how to apply to the court, the duties of an administrator, and tips for completing the process efficiently. With the right information, you can ensure your loved one's wishes are fulfilled and their estate is distributed properly under New York law. Let this guide walk you through the administration process and empower you to handle this responsibility knowledgeably.

What Is Administration When Someone Dies Without a Will?

Administrator Appointment

When someone passes away without leaving a will (intestate), the court will appoint an administrator to handle the estate. The administrator is typically the surviving spouse, adult children, or other close relative of the deceased. The administrator acts similarly to an executor, taking control of the estate's assets and distributing them according to the state's intestacy laws.

Distributing Assets

The administrator must first identify and collect all assets of the estate. This includes financial accounts, real estate, vehicles, personal belongings, and any debts owed to the decedent. The administrator will then pay off any outstanding debts and taxes before distributing the remaining assets to the decedent's heirs at law. In New York, the order of inheritance without a will is typically:

  1. Spouse and children - The spouse inherits the first $50,000 plus 1/2 of the remaining estate. The children inherit the other 1/2 of the remaining estate.

  2. Parents and siblings - If there is no spouse or children, the parents inherit the entire estate. If no parents, then siblings inherit the entire estate.

  3. More distant relatives - If none of the above exist, more distant relatives like grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews may inherit the estate.

The administrator has an obligation to locate all potential heirs and distribute the assets equitably based on the rules of intestacy. This process can be complicated, so the administrator may need to consult with legal counsel to ensure proper distribution.

Closing the Estate

Once all assets have been collected and distributed, the administrator can petition the court to close the estate. This involves filing a final accounting of all financial transactions, assets and distributions. If approved by the court, the administrator is discharged from their duties and the estate is officially closed.

Who Can Petition to Be Administrator in New York?

In New York, the administration proceeding begins when an interested party files a petition with the Surrogate's Court to be appointed as administrator of the estate. The individual who files the petition is known as the petitioner. Typically, the surviving spouse, children, parents, or siblings of the decedent will petition to be administrator. However, any person who has an interest in the estate, such as a creditor, may petition to serve in this role.

Priority of Appointment

New York law establishes an order of priority for appointing an administrator. The surviving spouse has the first priority, followed by any children, grandchildren, parents, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, and other relatives. If no relatives are willing or able to serve, or if the decedent died without any relatives, a creditor or other third party may petition to be administrator. The court will consider the priorities outlined in the law but has discretion to appoint any suitable and competent person as administrator.

Requirements to Serve as Administrator

To be appointed as administrator, an individual must be over the age of 18, not be an infant or incompetent, and not have any conflicts of interest with the estate. Administrators must also be residents of New York or appoint a resident agent for service of process. The most important qualifications are honesty, integrity, and the ability to properly handle the financial and legal responsibilities of administering the estate. The court may require a bond to ensure that the administrator will perform his or her duties in good faith.

In summary, New York law establishes an order of priority for appointing an administrator of an intestate estate based primarily on the relationship of the petitioner to the decedent. However, the court has discretion to appoint any suitable person who meets the basic requirements to serve competently in this role. The essential goal is to appoint an administrator who will work to settle the estate efficiently and in the best interests of all beneficiaries and creditors.

The Administration Process Step-by-Step

When someone passes away without a will in New York, the court will appoint an administrator to handle the estate. The administration process ensures the decedent's remaining assets are distributed according to the state's intestate succession laws.

Petitioning the Court

The first step is to petition the court to open an estate. Typically, a close relative of the decedent, such as a spouse, child, or parent, files the petition. The petitioner must provide details about the decedent's assets, liabilities, and heirs. The court will review the petition and appoint the petitioner as administrator if approved.

Posting Bond

The administrator may have to post a bond to ensure the proper distribution of assets. The bond amount depends on the value of the estate. The administrator must pay a bond premium, often a percentage of the total bond amount.

Notifying Creditors

The administrator must publish a notice to creditors in a local newspaper. This allows creditors to make claims against the estate. The administrator must verify and pay any legitimate claims before distributing assets to heirs.

Filing the Inventory

The administrator must file an inventory with the court listing all the decedent's assets and liabilities. This includes real estate, bank accounts, investments, personal property, mortgages, loans, and other debts. The inventory provides a complete financial picture of the estate to be distributed.

Distributing the Assets

Once all creditors have been paid and the final accounting has been approved by the court, the administrator can distribute the remaining assets to the decedent's heirs according to New York's laws of intestate succession. The administrator is entitled to reasonable compensation for their services, which is deducted from the estate.

The administration process ensures the decedent's final affairs are handled properly according to the laws of New York. While it can be complex, an administrator who acts in good faith and works closely with the court can successfully complete the process. The end result is providing inheritance for the rightful heirs.

Duties and Powers of the Administrator

As administrator of an estate, you have certain legal duties and powers to properly handle the administration process. Your primary duty is to manage the decedent’s estate and distribute assets to beneficiaries or creditors. This includes locating and collecting all assets of the estate, paying any debts or taxes owed, and distributing the remaining assets to those entitled to them under state law.

You have the power to access records and accounts of the decedent to inventory their assets. This includes gaining access to safe deposit boxes, bank accounts, brokerage accounts, and the decedent’s home. You must conduct a thorough search for all assets, which may require contacting past employers, insurance companies, and financial institutions.

Another key duty is ensuring estate taxes and debts are paid. You must file a final income tax return for the decedent and an estate tax return (if required). You are also responsible for paying off any remaining debts using the estate's assets before distributing to beneficiaries.

As administrator, you have the authority to manage estate property, including selling or investing securities or real estate. However, you have a fiduciary duty to beneficiaries and must handle the estate in a reasonably prudent manner. You can be held personally liable for any damage or loss resulting from mismanagement of estate assets.

Once taxes and debts have been paid, you may begin distributing the remaining assets to the decedent’s beneficiaries or heirs according to their interest in the estate. The administrator must keep detailed records of asset distribution for reporting to the court and beneficiaries. Strict adherence to the rules of administration and reporting requirements is essential to avoid personal liability and legal complications.

In summary, the administrator has significant duties and powers over the decedent's estate during the administration process. Proper execution of these responsibilities helps ensure efficient management and distribution of estate assets to beneficiaries. However, administrators must act prudently and keep meticulous records to avoid liability for mismanagement.

Distribution of Assets to Heirs Under New York Law

If a person passes away in New York without executing a valid will, the distribution of their assets will be determined according to the state's laws of intestacy. Under these laws, the decedent's property is distributed to their closest living relatives in a specified order of priority.

Surviving Spouse and Children

If the decedent is survived by a spouse and children, the spouse will inherit the first $50,000 of the estate plus one-half of the remaining estate. The children will split the other half equally. If all the children are also the children of the surviving spouse, the spouse inherits the entire estate.

Surviving Spouse Only

If only a spouse survives the decedent, the spouse will inherit the entire estate. The spouse has the authority to administer the estate as the administrator.

Children Only

If only children survive the decedent and there is no surviving spouse, the children will inherit equal shares of the entire estate. If any of the children are minors, a guardian will need to be appointed to manage their inheritance until they reach the age of majority.

Other Relatives

If the decedent is not survived by a spouse or any children, the estate will pass to other relatives in the following order: parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins. More distant relatives inherit only if there are no closer blood relatives.

No Surviving Relatives

If the decedent is not survived by any spouse, children or other close relatives, the estate will escheat to the state of New York. In most cases, a public administrator will be appointed to handle the administration of the estate and transfer of assets to the state's custody.

The distribution of assets in New York when a person dies intestate aims to provide for the decedent's closest living relatives in a manner that resembles how most people would distribute their estate if they had executed a will. The laws provide guidelines for the fair division of property among surviving family members.

Taxes and Expenses Paid During Administration

As an administrator of an estate without a will, you are responsible for ensuring that any taxes or expenses owed by the decedent are properly paid and accounted for.

Estate taxes

If the total value of the decedent's estate exceeds the estate tax exemption amount, estate taxes will need to be filed and paid. The estate tax exemption amount is the amount of assets a person can pass onto their heirs tax-free. Any amount over the exemption is subject to estate tax. As the administrator, you must file an estate tax return and pay any taxes due within 9 months of the decedent's date of death.

Income taxes

You are also responsible for filing the decedent's final personal income tax return. This includes income the decedent earned or received up to the date of their death. The final income tax return is due by the standard filing deadline of April 15th in the year following the decedent's death.


Common expenses paid during administration include:

  • Funeral and burial costs: Paying any outstanding costs related to funeral arrangements and burial or cremation of the decedent.

  • Debts and bills: Paying off any remaining debts, bills, and liabilities owed by the decedent at the time of death. This includes credit cards, loans, mortgages, utilities, etc.

  • Probate fees: Covering probate court fees required to open and close the decedent's estate. Probate fees vary by state but often include a percentage of the total estate value.

  • Administrator compensation: Receiving reasonable compensation for your duties as estate administrator. Compensation may be a percentage of the total estate, hourly rate, or flat fee.

As administrator, you must keep detailed records of all taxes paid and expenses incurred during the administration process. These records will need to be provided to the probate court to close the estate. Properly handling the decedent's final taxes and expenses is an important step to efficiently administering an estate without a will.

How Long Does Administration Take in New York?

The time required to complete the administration process in New York depends on several factors, including the complexity of the estate and whether there are any disputes among beneficiaries or creditors. Typically, the entire administration process takes between 6 to 18 months to complete.

Tips for Streamlining the Administration Process

Once you’ve started the administration proceeding, there are several steps you can take to help expedite the process.

The first important action is to locate and secure all assets of the estate, including financial accounts, property, vehicles, and other valuables. Make sure all accounts are up to date on payments like mortgages, utility bills, and insurance premiums. You should also look for estate planning documents like wills, trusts, deeds, titles, and insurance policies.

Another key tip is to determine all debts and liabilities of the estate. Carefully review financial records to identify any outstanding loans, credit cards, medical bills or other debts owed. Pay off or settle these promptly to avoid interest charges accruing.

You will need to value all assets of the estate. Work with appraisers to determine the fair market value of property, collectibles, vehicles and other assets. Provide documentation of values to the court to establish the total estate value.

Once assets and debts have been identified, prepare an estate inventory and accounting to submit to the court. The accounting should list all income, assets, debts, expenses and distributions of the estate. Be prepared to provide statements, receipts, bills and other records to support the accounting.

Another helpful step is to locate beneficiaries and determine how assets will be distributed. Check for a last will and testament to see if the decedent left instructions for distributing assets. If no will exists, the estate will be distributed according to the state's intestacy laws. Notify all beneficiaries of their share of the estate.

By following these useful tips, you can streamline the administration process and minimize complications. Carefully securing assets, paying off debts, valuing the estate, preparing an accounting and notifying beneficiaries will help ensure the estate is distributed properly and efficiently. With organization and attention to detail, you can navigate administration proceedings smoothly.


In closing, while administration proceedings in New York can seem complex, you now have a solid overview of the key steps involved when a person dies intestate. Remember that an administrator must be appointed, assets inventoried, debts paid, and remaining assets distributed per state law. Be sure to consult a Brooklyn probate attorney to ensure the process goes smoothly. With the right guidance, you can successfully navigate administration and honor your loved one's legacy. Moving forward with knowledge and purpose will make this difficult process more manageable.