If you are dealing with the death of a loved one, Scaffidi & Associates can help you navigate the legal, financial, and emotional aspects of probate and estate administration. We will make certain that all essential steps are taken, and that any necessary documents are well-drafted and filed in a timely fashion. We are committed to making the process of probate or estate administration as stress-free as possible for you.
What Is Probate?
Probate is the court-supervised process through which a will is validated. The will is an important document because it:  states the decedent’s desired beneficiaries (inheritors of assets),  names an executor who will manage the estate, and  declares what the decedent’s wishes are regarding funeral, burial, cremation or memorial.
In New York State your estate only has to go through probate if it is over $30,000. The cost of probate and the length of time the process will take are both variables, increasing with the size and complexity of the deceased individual’s assets.
Probate usually goes smoothly, particularly with a skilled probate attorney taking charge. The reason probate has a negative connotation is that the process tends to be costly and time-consuming, especially when it involves large estates with complex properties. In many cases, savvy attorneys are able to create, through judicious actions, one or more carefully constructed trusts that avoid probate altogether. If you are engaged in planning your own estate, Scaffidi & Associates’ attorneys can help you in this capacity.
When a potential heir or actual beneficiary contests a will, the probate proceeding becomes more complicated. Emotions run high and it takes an experienced and astute probate attorney to stabilize the situation. If you are dealing with a contested will, or are interested in contesting a will, it is crucial to have professional representation and guidance.
Estate administration refers to the management and settlement of the estate of a person who has died intestate, meaning without a will. Typically, administration of an estate is performed under the supervision of the court by a person the court has appointed, usually the decedent’s next of kin. In New York, once the estate administrator is appointed and has received official Letters of Administration, he or she is charged with the following tasks:
- Gathering and taking an inventory of the assets of the estate;
- Making sure estate debts and taxes are paid;
- Distributing the remaining assets to the beneficiaries according to NYS law.
Since there is no will, the estate’s assets are distributed according to New York law regarding statutory heirs. Under normal circumstances, family members inherit in the following sequence: spouse and children (including legally adopted children), grandchildren (only if the children of the decedent have already passed away), then parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, and perhaps cousins. There are very specific inheritance laws in New York concerning variables such as:
- When the decedent had a domestic partner rather than a spouse;
- When the decedent had one living parent and siblings, but no children;
- When the decedent had half-siblings;
- When the decedent had stepchildren;
- When the decedent had biological children conceived outside of marriage;
- When the decedent had children conceived by the decedent but born after his/her death.
Because of the increase in diverse blended families, and the complexities of inheritance laws, if someone in your family has died intestate, the assistance of an attorney with knowledge and experience regarding estate administration is invaluable.
Certain Assets Are Not Under the Umbrella of Estate Administration
Assets that would not have gone through a will had there been one will not be affected by intestate distribution laws and so will not be part of estate administration. These include:
- Property transferred to a living trust;
- Life insurance proceeds with a designated beneficiary;
- Funds in IRAs, 401(k)s, or other retirement accounts;
- Bank accounts designated payable-on-death to a particular party;
- Jointly owned property (joint tenancy).
The estate administrator will not have to handle these assets since they have already been appropriated.
What Happens If The Deceased Had No Family Members or Domestic Partners
If the person who died intestate did not have any known living relatives, and if none show up after a certain period of time, his or her property will be transferred (“escheated”) to state coffers.
Scaffidi & Associates Is Here to Assist in Probate Proceedings and Estate Administration
When a loved one dies, let the compassionate attorneys at Scaffidi & Associates help you navigate through the Estate Administration process. We will use our knowledge of New York Trust & Estates law to ease whichever legal process you have to go through. We realize how much support you need at this difficult time, and are fully prepared to provide it. You can reach us by phone or by filling out a contact form on our website.