3 Stages of the New York Probate Process


Let’s talk about the 3 stages of the probate process here in New York.

Stage 1 is Appointing an executor. Stage 2 is Administering the estate. And Stage 3 is closing the estate.

Most of our clients find this very general overview of the probate process pretty helpful.

Stage 1: Appointing an executor

The first stage is appointing an executor. The Executor is the court-appointed, legal representative of the estate.

By the way, technically, if there’s no will, he’s called an Administrator instead, and some other titles for other situations. But I’m going to use “Executor” interchangeably, just because most folks are familiar with that.

The Executor receives a certificate from the court called Letters Testamentary. This is his proof to the rest of world that he has the legal right to do things for the estate.

Let me give you an example of how letters work: Imagine someone walks into a bank and says “my dad passed away, I’m here to close his account and collect the money.”

How is the bank supposed to know if this person is actually a child? Or if there was a will that disinherited him? Or if there are other siblings or a spouse who are also entitled?

When an Executor shows his court-certified Letters, the bank can release funds to him with confidence, because the Executor has shown his proof of legal authority. The same applies for real estate, insurance, pensions, and so on.

How long does this Stage take? In the simplest of cases, getting an executor appointed can be as quick as 2 month. On average I’d say 3-4 months.

Stage 2: Administering the Estate

Now let’s talk about stage 2: administering the estate. Once the court appoints an Executor, the next step is to collect the assets, organize the debts, and file taxes.

Collecting assets means closing accounts, and possibly selling real estate. All the cash is then deposited into a separate bank account in the Estate’s name. This is the gross estate, or the starting total pot.

Then we start cutting checks from that pot, by paying the estate’s debts and expenses. At the same time, we file and pay all final taxes. Whatever’s left is the net estate. This is what we have left to divide among the heirs.

How long does administration take? This stage usually takes about 9 months to a year. Even for the simplest estates, it takes 7 months minimum, because that’s the New York state law holding period (or statute of limitations) for any unknown creditors to raise their hand and say “hey! you owe us some money, too!”

Stage 3: Closing the Estate

The last stage is closing the estate and sending inheritance checks to the heirs. The Executor has to prepare an “Accounting.” This is a court-ledger of every dollar that went in and out of the estate. The Executor sends this Accounting to all the heirs, and anyone else who has a stake in the estate.

For Heirs, this is your chance to review exactly how the Executor handled the estate. If you have any problems or questions, now is the time to say something.

Once everyone agrees with the Accounting, then all the Heirs sign off by signing Receipts and Releases forms that essentially says: “I’m OK with the Executor’s work, I accept my calculated share, And I won’t sue the Executor later,” After the Executor submits all signed forms with the court, he can send out checks to the Heirs.

This closing stage typically takes 1-3 months, but it really varies a lot. Some heirs want their inheritance as soon as possible. And other have lots of questions, it just depends.

So start to finish, the entire probate process typically takes a bit over 1 year. But again, it varies case by case and can take several years if there’s conflict or other complications.

If you’d like to learn more, I’ll be happy to try and answer your questions.

If you haven’t already, you can start by calling me or sending me your contact info using the form below. One of my paralegals will call you back, so you can tell us your story.

Then, I’ll be able to send you some information that matches your situation.

Lastly, if everything looks like a good fit, we can schedule a one-on-one consultation to get started on your case.

I hope you found this helpful. Give me a call or fill out the form below if you’d like to learn more. Bye now!

[Previously posted on YouTube]

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