In our previous post, we covered who the Surrogate's court deems to be a fiduciary, what duties a fiduciary has, and what a breach of fiduciary duty entails.
In general, administering an estate or trust after an individual's death requires the fiduciary to manage certain routine tasks and follow several standard procedures to distribute the decedent's assets in accordance with his or her wishes. Although each situation is different, we have created a basic checklist to guide you through the process. If you need assistance navigating the estate administration process, would like more information, or have further questions after reading through this checklist please contact us for a free consultation at (914) 228-7448.
Estate Fiduciary Checklist
Get Letters - Before you can begin performing your duties as executor, you must first receive Letters Testamentary from the probate court. Letters Testamentary give the executor the legal authority to act on behalf of the estate in a fiduciary capacity. As the executor, you must present the Letters Testamentary and a death certificate to manage real estate transactions, banking, and asset distribution for the estate.
To obtain Letters Testamentary, you must file several documents such as a Petition, Affidavit of Heirship, the official last will and testament and death certificate with the court. In most cases, the executor must also provide information about the estate's value. All legally interested parties must consent or be served. When this process is not going to be accomplished quickly, you can apply for Preliminary Letters which will allow the fiduciary to marshall the estate assets and pay estate debts, but not make distributions to beneficiaries until final Letters are granted
Update Your Contact Information – You have a fiduciary responsibility to the estate's interested parties as an executor. If the beneficiaries are unable to reach you, there may be concerns that you, as the fiduciary, have handled the estate improperly. As a result, a fiduciary who fails to notify the court of a change of address may be removed by the Surrogate's Court.
Pay Debts in Order of Priority - Priority is granted to certain estate debts. SCPA 1811 directs the fiduciary to pay “[t]he reasonable funeral expenses ... subject to the payment of expenses of administration ... out of the first moneys received.” SCPA 1811 also specifies the priority of remaining debts.
Pay Taxes – Income, estate, and gift tax returns must be filed by a fiduciary.
Prepare A Full Accounting – As a fiduciary, you must account for your actions in relation to the estate. To prepare for the final accounting, you should keep complete records for all transactions. An accounting may be done informally, with all competent beneficiaries signing receipts and releases for the fiduciary. In other cases, a formal judicial accounting will be required before you can be released as fiduciary and the estate is closed.
If you fail to keep complete and accurate records and your accounting is challenged, the Surrogate's Court has the authority to resolve doubts and presumptions against you.