What Does It Mean to Administer an Estate?

What Does It Mean to Administer an Estate?

Administering an estate is the important process of managing a person’s assets and liabilities after they die. Estate administration involves several key steps that can be difficult to understand or carry out without the help of an attorney. 

Understanding the duties of an estate administrator is important if someone you love dies without a will in New York. Administrators can be held liable for errors they make during the administration process. An experienced estate planning lawyer at Chaves Perlowitz Luftig LLP can help you avoid critical mistakes or take the pressure off and manage the entire estate administration process for you. Call or contact us for a free consultation to learn more. 

Who Is the Administrator of an Estate?

After a person dies, the money, property, assets, and debts in their name before their death are collectively referred to as their “estate.” 

When someone dies without a will, New York law requires the Surrogate’s Court to appoint an administrator of an estate. Usually, the administrator will be one of the deceased’s next-of-kin, appointed in the following order

  • Surviving spouse
  • Children
  • Grandchildren
  • Parents
  • Siblings 

What Does an Administrator of an Estate Do?

Estate administrators have important duties. You will:

  • Gather the deceased’s assets
  • Pay off estate debts and liabilities
  • File tax returns
  • Distribute assets to surviving family members 

An administrator must distribute assets to next-of-kin according to New York’s intestacy laws. Handling these matters can be tricky when there is no immediate next-of-kin or disputes arise over kinship among distant relatives. An estate planning attorney can be a valuable asset to administrators dealing with complicated family trees or unclear relationships with the deceased.  

Executor vs. Administrator of an Estate

An executor and an administrator of an estate essentially have the same duties. The difference is that an executor is named by the deceased in their Last Will and Testament, whereas the administrator is court-appointed. 

When people create their wills, they typically grant executors certain rights and responsibilities for managing the estate. As a result, executors usually have broader powers when handling and distributing assets since administrators may only act in accordance with state law.

How to Become the Administrator of Estate

You must apply to become the administrator of an estate in New York. When you petition the court, you must also notify all surviving heirs of your request to serve as administrator.  Surviving spouses and domestic partners of the deceased will receive first priority, followed by other surviving adult family members and dependents.

You cannot take action on behalf of the estate until the court issues you Letters of Administration. In cases where no family member comes forward, the Public Administrator for the City of New York will administer the estate.  

 Do You Need a Lawyer to Administer an Estate?

If you are managing a relatively modest and simple estate with no contested issues, you may be able to handle the administration process without legal counsel. However, estate administration can get complicated quickly. If any of the following factors apply to your situation, chances are you would benefit from the assistance of a knowledgeable estate planning attorney:

  • The estate is large.
  • The estate involves one or more businesses or other complicated assets.
  • Any surviving family members contest the will or become engaged in a dispute.
  • There are not enough assets in the estate to pay all debts and liabilities.
  • The estate must file a tax return to pay state or federal estate taxes.

No matter how simple or complicated an estate may be, anyone responsible for administering an estate should speak to an experienced attorney for sound legal advice. Contact Chaves Perlowitz Luftig LLP today to learn more in a free case review.

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