When a loved one dies intestate (without a will), the procedures surrounding the distribution of their estate can be opaque and confusing. In New York, intestate succession laws govern how the estate must be distributed, and the Surrogate Court’s procedural laws dictate who may serve as administrator of a decedent’s estate. These laws are relatively rigid and can leave a family feeling like they have little control over the estate distribution.
At the Law Office of Andrew M. Lamkin, P.C., we help families understand the administration and distribution of an estate when their loved one dies without a will. We provide professional and empathetic advice to help individuals and families going through such difficult times. Our firm can provide the experience you need to get through the probate process. Contact us today and schedule a consultation.
What Is an Administrator of a Decedent’s Estate in New York?
Under the laws of most states, the term administrator is just another way of saying that a person is an executor of an estate. However, the two terms can not be used interchangeably in New York.
An executor is a person named in a decedent’s will to manage the affairs of the decedent’s estate once they pass. An administrator is appointed by the New York Surrogate’s Court to manage a decedent’s estate when the decedent did not leave behind a valid will. In other words, an executor is appointed by the decedent, usually in a will. And an administrator is appointed by the State. Otherwise, administrators and executors have similar duties towards an estate and its beneficiaries.
Who Can Be an Administrator of a Decedent’s Estate?
To become an administrator of a decedent’s estate, a person must obtain letters of administration from the New York Surrogate’s Court. Section 1001 of the Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act dictates who can receive letters of administration and the order of priority for granting them. The order of priority determines who will get to administer the estate when multiple parties seek to. In order of priority, the people who can administer an estate include:
- The surviving spouse,
- The children,
- The grandchildren,
- Either parent,
- The brothers or sisters,
- Any other heir, or
- The public administrator or chief financial officer of the county.
In cases where two or more people want to administer an intestate estate and are at an equal priority level, the Surrogate’s Court can grant letters of administration to one or more of them. In many cases, people of equal priority agree to be co-administrators. Ultimately, the Surrogate’s Court has the final say.
Who Can’t Be an Administrator of a Decedent’s Estate?
Section 707 of the Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act governs the eligibility of individuals to receive letters, including letters of administration. People who can not administer a decedent’s estate include:
- An infant (defined as anyone under 18 years old);
- An incompetent;
- Non-domiciliary noncitizens except foreign guardians and those who serve with a co-fiduciary that is a resident of New York;
- People who the court determines do not have the qualifications required of a fiduciary due to substance abuse, dishonesty, improvidence, want of understanding, or who is otherwise unfit;
- People who can not read and write English; and
- Convicted felons.
If someone is ineligible to receive letters of administration, then priority will pass to individuals on the priority level described in Section 1001. For example, if there is no surviving spouse and both children are under 18, then the decedent’s parents will have priority.
How to Become an Administrator of an Estate
Becoming an estate administrator in New York can be a complicated process. It is critical to employ the help of an experienced estate attorney. At the Law Office of Andrew M. Lamkin, P.C., we can assist with the process—from preparing to file for letters of administration through the closure of the estate and beyond.
The first step to becoming an estate administrator is determining if you have priority and are eligible to administer an estate in New York. If so, you must gather the appropriate documentation, such as the decedent’s death certificate and an Affidavit of Heirship. Once you gather documentation, you must fill out all the forms required by the Surrogate’s Court where the decedent died. File the forms along with a filing fee with the court and attend the hearing if the court issues you a citation. If the court appoints you as administrator, it will issue you letters of administration.
Duties of an Estate Administrator in New York
Much like an executor of an estate, an estate administrator is responsible for handling all of the estate’s affairs. The duties of an estate administrator include the following:
- Collecting the assets of the estate,
- Creating an inventory of the estate’s assets,
- Handling the estate’s financial affairs,
- Filing tax returns,
- Paying the estate’s debts,
- Distributing the estate’s assets to heirs, and
- Closing the estate.
The administrator of an estate also has a fiduciary duty toward the estate’s beneficiaries. Failing to fulfill your fiduciary duties can open an estate administrator up to lawsuits. Mistakes while fulfilling your responsibilities can also cost the estate time and money. Working with an experienced estate attorney will help you avoid such delays and costs and, ultimately, help you know you are performing your duties properly.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do Estate Administrators Receive Compensation?
Yes. Section 2307 of the Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act details the compensation for estate administrators and other estate fiduciaries. The rate is between 5% and 2% of the estate, depending on its size. The administrators of larger estates receive a lower percentage.
How Does an Intestate Estate Get Distributed?
Administrators distribute estates where the decedent dies without a will, i.e., intestate estates. Intestate estates must be distributed according to New York’s intestate succession laws. For example, if a decedent is survived by a spouse and children, the spouse is entitled to $50,000 and half of the remaining estate. The children are entitled to split the other half of the remaining estate. This might sound straightforward, but complicated family dynamics can make intestate succession laws challenging to interpret. Working with an experienced estate attorney can help you ensure the correct distribution of assets.
Is the Estate Administrator Responsible for Attorney’s Fees and Court Costs?
No, the estate pays the probate costs and reasonable attorney’s fees.
Contact the Law Office of Andrew M. Lamkin, P.C., Today
If you have an intestate estate to administer, the Law Office of Andrew M. Lamkin, P.C., can help. Our firm focuses exclusively on matters pertaining to estate law and has the experience to guide you through the entire process. Schedule a consultation now!