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I’ve Been Named the Administrator of an Estate. What Now?

Lawrence M. Gordon, Attorney at Law, PC Jan. 18, 2023

Intestacy – Folder with labeling, gavel and libraWhen someone dies without a last will and testament, the state laws of intestate succession take over. This means that that person’s closest relatives — as determined by law — will inherit his or her assets. 

It also means that someone, usually a family member or relative, will be appointed administrator of the estate to oversee the settling of all matters in probate court. An administrator of an estate fulfills essentially the same functions as an executor, but an executor is named in a will, whereas an administrator is not. 

While an executor named in a will may be prepared for the eventuality and be aware of the decedent’s desires for his or her assets, an administrator named by the court may be assuming the task with little or no preparation or advance knowledge. Also, since there is no will to go by, the court will decide who gets what. 

If you’ve been appointed by a probate court as the administrator of an estate and you need guidance on how to handle your administrative tasks, contact a skilled probate and estate administration attorney. At Lawrence M. Gordon, Attorney at Law, PC, I’ve been advising clients since 1974. I am knowledgeable and experienced in all aspects of probate and estate administration and can help you fulfill all the duties required of you. 

From my office in Bellmore, New York, I serve clients across Long Island, including Nassau County and Suffolk County, and throughout the five boroughs of New York City. 

Intestate Succession in New York: Appointing an Administrator 

Probate for the deceased, whether they left a will or not, is held in the Surrogate’s Court of the county in which they passed away. According to the website of the New York State Unified Court System, the closest family member — known as the closest distributee in legalese — should present the court with the decedent’s death certificate and file a Petition for Letters of Administration and any other supporting documents. 

The petition must include the names of all other distributees, or relatives entitled to a share of the decedent's property. These individuals must be notified of the impending probate proceedings through what is called a citation. The distributee who files the petition can sign a waiver and consent to the appointment of someone else to be named administrator of the estate. The court can then choose someone from the list of distributees who received citations. 

Duties of the Administrator 

Similar to what an executor named in a will would do, the administrator must take charge of the estate — the decedent’s assets — and manage them to pay off all creditors and tax obligations. This might involve the sale of solely held real property or even art or other collectibles. The proceeds, including any cash assets, must be placed in a bank account set up specifically for the estate administration process. 

The administrator will also be responsible for wrapping up any day-to-day obligations of the decedent, such as canceling subscriptions, utilities, and leases. The administrator must also notify relevant government agencies of the person’s death, including the post office, Social Security Administration, Medicare, and the Veterans Administration, and other applicable agencies. 

The court will supervise these actions and require reports of everything that has been done. The administrator has a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of all involved, including creditors and heirs, which means being honest, impartial, and diligent. Heirs can also object if they feel the administrator is acting in a self-serving way. 

Where the duties of the administrator differ from those of an executor is in the distribution of assets. An executor has a will to go by when it comes to the final settling of the estate — distributing assets to those so designated. When a person dies without a will, state laws of intestate succession will determine who gets what. 

Law of Intestate Succession: Who Gets What? 

Things can get a bit complicated when it comes to the distribution of assets for someone who dies intestate (without a will). If there is just a spouse and no other relatives, then the spouse gets everything. If there is no spouse and only children, then the children get everything. 

After that, it gets a bit more involved. If there are both a spouse and other descendants, the spouse gets $50,000 plus one-half of everything else. The other descendants get the other half. If there is no spouse or descendants, the decedent’s parents stand to inherit everything. If the decedent had no spouse, descendants, or living parents, their siblings become the inheritors. 

Compensation for the Administrator 

Under New York law, administrators are entitled to what amounts to a commission based on the value of the estate. If the estate is valued under $100,000, the administrator can receive a fee equal to 5% of the estate value. 

The percentage then decreases as the estate value rises — 4% for an estate under $200,000 in value, 3% for an estate under $700,000, 2.5% for under $4 million, and 2% for under $5 million. 

Get Personalized Legal Counsel 

It is smart to have an experienced estate administration attorney to help you in carrying out your tasks, if for no other reason than to answer questions and help you prepare all the documents needed. Sometimes, the tasks can get more involved, especially if there are challenges by creditors or family members, and then legal counsel becomes all the more vital. 

At Lawrence M. Gordon, Attorney at Law, PC, I am prepared to help you by coaching, preparing documents, or overseeing the entire process if you so choose. Contact my office in Bellmore, New York you find yourself being appointed the administrator of an estate on Long Island. I can provide you with personalized guidance every step of the way.