Last Will and Testament

You have been named Executor under your family member’s will.  Now what?  In order for you to have any authority as an Executor, you will need to obtain official authority from a Court appointing you Executor.  This authority will be granted by what are known as Letters Testamentary.  To get these Letters Testamentary, a petition must be filed with the Surrogate’s Court in the county where your loved one resided when they passed away.  This is ordinarily when you would contact an attorney to help guide you through the process.  Filing a petition for probate usually involves receiving the consent of every beneficiary under the Will and any possible distributee under New York State Law.  After the petition is filed and filing fees are paid, the Surrogate’s Court will ordinarily grant Letters Testamentary, if everything goes smoothly.

Now you have been appointed as the Executor of the estate. Maybe you have hired an attorney to assist with the estate or perhaps you are handling everything on your own. Either way, you will need to sort through the decedent’s affairs in a prompt manner.  Once you receive papers from the court stating you are authorized to act on behalf of the estate, you will be able to talk to many financial institutions and the like to gather information regarding the decedent.

Within six months of your appointment as Executor, an assets inventory must be filed with the Surrogate’s Court.  The inventory lists the date of death values of all probate and non-probate assets. The purpose of the assets inventory is to ensure the appropriate filing fee is paid and ensure that there are no estate taxes due.  If assets are discovered after this inventory is filed, the documents may be amended or supplemented.

How are you going to find this information? If you are not the spouse of the decedent, you may be unfamiliar with the decedent’s financial affairs.  Reviewing bank statements, checkbook registers, tax returns, credit card statements, and/or brokerage account statements that may be in the decedent’s possession will be helpful.  You should also contact the US Postal Service to have the decedent’s mail forwarded directly to you.  This will give you an idea of what accounts may have been in the decedent’s name. Tax forms that are mailed early in the year will also provide insight into where the decedent maintained accounts.

The Executor needs to ensure insurance is maintained for any real property that is in the Estate.  Insurance agents should also be contacted regarding automobile policies to ensure coverage is continued.  If the decedent owned a safe deposit box, the contents should be inventoried.  Finally, you may also search the decedent’s computer, address book, and email contacts.  Each email service provider will have their own process for accessing a deceased account holder’s information.  This will clue you in to any key advisors such as financial planners, accountants, or attorneys who worked with the decedent and might be familiar with existing accounts, insurance policies, tax information, and estate planning documents.

If you need assistance, an experienced attorney who is familiar with estate administration can help guide you through the process.  If you are in need of legal assistance regarding probating a Will and administering an Estate, the attorneys at the Wladis Law Firm are here to help.  Call us at (315) 445-1700 and we will be happy to assist you.