How to Probate a Will Out-of-State with Maureen Pritchard

Summary

Anthony shares the mic with his friend, Maureen Pritchard, a probate and estate attorney. Estates are always an issue to families of a decedent, and to clear things up in this area, Maureen shares her expertise with us. Listen as she answers common questions regarding probate and the decedent’s estate.

Covered Topics

  • Out-of-State Probate
  • Personal Appearance and Getting a Lawyer
  • Getting Your Inheritance
  • What to Expect
  • Hiring a Lawyer to Represent and Advocate on Your Behalf

Show Notes

  • 00:08 – Anthony introduces Maureen
  • 00:25 – Today’s topic is probate and estate
  • 01:42 – Out-of-State Probate
    • Attorneys can handle court appearances and estate matters
  • 03:09 – A citation to come into court
    • A notice that the will is being administered in court
    • Hiring an attorney to appear on your behalf
  • 05:26 – Appearance not required
  • 06:09 – How to get your inheritance
    • Court appointment of managing the estate
    • Waiting period before payout
  • 07:20 – Why you cannot just get the money from the bank
  • 08:55 – Deciding on an executor
    • Decedent with a will vs without a will
    • State Law
    • Maureen shares examples
  • 11:59 – What to expect in your inheritance
    • With a Will vs Without a will
    • Ask admin how much assets in total
    • Less total cost of administration expenses
    • Divide the total value of the estate with heirs
  • 14:18 – Hiring a lawyer to advocate on your behalf to get information
    • Maureen talks about a case she handled
  • 17:57 – Start with the accounting
  • 18:44 – A quick recap of the topics

Takeaways

  • Out-of-state probate is possible — there is no need for personal appearance if you get a lawyer to represent you.
  • How an estate is handled is dependent on the will and/or the state law.
  • It’s always best to hire a lawyer who can act on your behalf rather than doing things on your own.

Link and Resources

Contact

Call or text 212-401-2990 if you’d like to work with Anthony (or any of our guests).

Full Transcript

– [Anthony] Hey, thanks for joining us. I’m here with my good friend and colleague Maureen Pritchard to talk about some estate issues, specifically after someone’s passed away, which is also known as probate. Thanks for joining us, Maureen.

– [Maureen] Thank you, Anthony, for having me.

– [Anthony] So Maureen and I work together quite often. She is a very, very skilled probate and estate attorney, and what that means when I say probate is the whole slew of legal, tax, and other issues that have to be dealt with when somebody passes away. For most cases you probably need to get an attorney to sort through all of that to get from the point where you have somebody who’s recently passed and a bunch of accounts and assets, to the ending point where everything is cleaned up, all taxes and debts are paid, and you’re able to have checks go out to all the various heirs. Does that sound like a good summary of what we do, Maureen?

– [Maureen] Yeah, that’s pretty good; yeah, that sums it up.

– [Anthony] I wanna cover some issues that are very specific to folks who maybe live out of state or maybe even out of the United States, but they know somebody who died in New York and this is a very sort of specific situation, but it has its own sets of hurdles and challenges, and I’d like to talk to those folks and maybe help them out by answering some of their questions. Does that sound good with you, Maureen?

– [Maureen] That sounds good, yes.

– [Anthony] All right, cool, so this question comes up all the time. So again, the situation is maybe I live in Ohio or even overseas in Europe, but my aunt or uncle passed away here in New York, and I’ve been made aware. Maybe I need to be part of the process of handling this. My first question, and the question that you and I both get quite often is, Do I have to come to New York?

– [Maureen] No, and that’s a really good question, and generally I would say, no, you don’t have to come to New York. If you live out of state and you, say, retain the services of a New York State attorney, that attorney can basically handle most of the court appearances and all the estate matters with you even though you reside in another state, so the attorney will basically prepare all the documents. They’ll send them to you either by email or snail mail and you would have to sign those documents in the presence of a notary, and then the attorney would basically file the documents in court for you. If you don’t have an attorney, and I don’t recommend that you try to do this process without an attorney because it can get complex and complicated, and if there is disagreements among family members, then you may have to take a trip to New York, but generally you don’t need to come to New York.

– [Anthony] So this situation comes up sometimes where a client calls in who again, who doesn’t live in New York but they say, hey, I got this thing in the mail and it looks really official; it’s stamped and it says, in very legally language, hear ye, hear ye, you must appear in court on this day, otherwise, blah, blah, blah, I don’t really understand. Hey, this sounds like I have to come into court; can you help me? Do I need to buy a ticket? What should I do?

– [Maureen] Okay, so that sounds like the person received what we call a citation to come into court, and so basically the person who is, I guess, at a probate in the estate or administering the estate they have to list with the court all the beneficiaries or the potential beneficiaries of the estate and they have to send them a notice that the will or the person’s assets are being administered in court and give them a chance to object to either the appointment of the executor or the probate of the will. So what the person who received this document can do is that they can hire a New York attorney who will be able to appear in court on their behalf, so no, no need to purchase a plane ticket to come to New York.

– [Anthony] Let’s say that it’s my cousin who I don’t get along with who sent me this citation I think is what you called it.

– [Maureen] Yes.

– [Anthony] What are the pros and cons of me showing up maybe even with my attorney because I don’t want him to get away with anything. I think I should be there. What do you say to that?

– [Maureen] Well, I mean, you can certainly show up with your attorney if you like, but as I said before, the attorney will basically be representing you in court, and even if you do come to New York, at the court appearance, if you’re represented by counsel, then only your attorney will be allowed to go in front of the judge, so they will basically be doing all the talking for you. If there is a conference, then same thing will happen. The attorneys will go into a room and discuss with a court referee or sometimes if it’s complex, the judge, and the client will basically have to wait until the attorney is finished.

– [Anthony] Okay, so it doesn’t sound like there’s really any scenario where it makes too much sense for me to come into New York, yeah?

– [Maureen] Not really, no. Not unless you want to enjoy New York tourism.

– [Anthony] Of course, by the way, we’re talking about the legal side of things. Coming to New York to attend to the funeral or other personal matters is I guess a different ball of wax, yeah?

– [Maureen] Right, that’s different. If the person died in New York and you wanna attend the funeral, then by all means, come to New York, attend the funeral, pay your last respects to the person that passed away, but in terms of the legal process of getting the assets through the court system, your appearance in New York is not required.

– [Anthony] Cool, good to know, and I think that’s gonna answer a question that a lot of people ask, so thanks, Maureen.

– [Maureen] You’re welcome.

– [Anthony] Cool, next, so all right, you answered that. I don’t have to come to New York, but what does have to happen in order for me to get my inheritance? Nobody wants to ask this question ’cause it sounds icky. It sounds like somebody’s just passed and nobody wants to be the first to raise their hand and say, well, what about the money? I mean, nobody wants to be that guy, but it is an important question because otherwise, things don’t happen or maybe some weird stuff begins to happen, so the question does need to be asked. So I’m the one who’s gonna ask it. I’m gonna be that guy.What needs to happen for me to get my inheritance?

– [Maureen] You know, that’s a good question, Anthony. What needs to happen is, first, the court needs to appoint someone to manage the estate. If that person is the executor or the administrator, that person basically needs to be appointed by the court, given the legal authority to be able to collect the assets, and pay the debts of the decedent, or that’s a fancy term for the person who passed away. After all the administration expenses have been paid, then there may be a waiting period where the person who is managing the estate has to wait before they can actually pay out an inheritance to the beneficiaries of the estate.

– [Anthony] So a couple of things just to make sure that I understand and our listeners understand. So I can’t just walk into a bank. So let’s say my uncle passed away with an account at Chase but Chase has branches all over the country, right? So even though he passed away in New York when I go to my branch in Boston or wherever I live, can’t I just walk in with a death certificate and say, hey, my uncle passed away; please close the account and transfer it to my account. Why can’t I just do that?

– [Maureen] Well, unless you are jointly on the account with your uncle, the bank won’t just give you the money by you giving them a death certificate that your uncle passed away. So the bank is probably ask you if you are the administrator or the executor of the estate, and if you are not, they’re gonna basically tell you that you need to wait until the executor issues you a check. So no, you can’t just walk into a bank and say, you know, this is the account that my uncle had. Give it to me. The bank doesn’t know for certain that you are in fact related to this person, so why would they hand over the money to you?

– [Anthony] Ah, so is that what the court process is for? To sort out and prove who’s related and who has a right to inherit, that sort of stuff?

– [Maureen] Yes, exactly; that’s exactly what the court process is for because, to be honest, and we’ve heard these stories a lot, someone passed away, they have a lot of money, and all of a sudden they have all these relatives that nobody knew about. So the court process is to weed out all of those people who may claim that they’re related to the person who died.

– [Anthony] All right, fair enough. So we have to wait for there to be a court-appointed, I think you said executor or administrator. Okay, I get that. Who decides which family member or which person will be the executor or administrator? Who decides who will be in charge of the estate? Why can’t it be me, or can it be me depending on who I am?

– [Maureen] Yeah, that’s true. Well, it can be you depending on who you are but it also depends on whether or not the person died with a will or without a will, right? So if the person passed away and they had a will, most likely the person who’s nominated in the will as the executor will be the one who is in charge of the estate. If the person passed away and they didn’t have a will, then, as I said, the laws of intestacy state law will determine who gets to petition the court to be able to administer or manage the decedent’s estate. So for example, in New York if you died and you had a spouse, I mean, you were legally married, so you have a husband or a wife, then your spouse is the first person who is eligible to manage the estate. If the person didn’t have a spouse, and they had children, multiple children, then it’s a race, basically, about who gets to court first and file a petition first. Usually there’s a hierarchy of who gets to serve or who is eligible to serve as an administrator of a person’s estate.

– [Anthony] Well what if my brother and I both think we should be the administrator? Is it purely based on who gets to court first? What if he’s been through a bankruptcy, right? Or what if he’s a criminal? He’s not, by the way; I don’t want him to think I’m saying this about him.

– [Maureen] That’s a good question. Actually, there are certain things you’ll say that will disqualify someone from serving as the administrator of an estate. For example, bankruptcy. The court wants to make sure that you can manage the assets in the estate, that you will be honest with the money, and if you can’t manage your own financial affairs, then the court probably won’t allow you to manage someone else’s affair.

– [Anthony] I mean that makes sense, yeah.

– [Maureen] Right? A felon that’s one of the persons that in New York State can’t serve as an administrator so if you have a felony you’re disqualified.

– [Anthony] All right, so let me just recap so far. I live out of state or out of the country, and my relative has passed away in New York. I don’t need to come to New York, necessarily, at least not for legal stuff. I can if I want to for personal paying respects, funeral, and whatnot.

– [Maureen] Yes.

– [Anthony] What needs to happen before I get my inheritance is the court needs to appoint an executor or an administrator, somebody to be legally in charge of the estate. It can be me but it sort of depends on where I sit on the family tree and whether or not I’m disqualified for any financial or criminal reasons. Have I kind of summed it up so far?

– [Maureen] Yes.

– [Anthony] Cool, all right, so assuming that I’m not the executor, assuming somebody else, a lawyer in New York or a relative who’s closer, somebody else is in charge. I can wait until I get my actual check but for now, I wanna know what I’m entitled to. How do I find out what I should expect in terms of my inheritance?

– [Maureen] There are several things, right? So, and this depends on whether or not there’s a will or the person died without a will. If there’s a will and you have a copy of the will, you can look at the will to see what you’re entitled to because it will tell you in the will if you’re getting anything from the estate or not. If you don’t have a copy of the will you can always request a copy from the person who is the executor or the counsel, the attorney for the executor. If it’s a case where the person passed away without a will, then you can ask the administrator, the person who’s managing the estate, how much assets the person had when they passed away, and then you also need to know the total costs of the administration expenses. And by administration expenses I mean the person who is managing the estate has to pay all the final bills of the person who passed away. So the funeral bill, if they were in the hospital, they have to pay the hospital bill. There may be taxes that are due, owed, and any other expenses that are associated with probating or administering the estate. So once you figure out how much the person had when they passed away and how much the administration cost is, then you would have to basically subtract the cost of administration from the total value of the estate. You would then divide that by how many beneficiaries there are, so for example, if someone passed away with $100,000 and the administration expenses are $10,000, right? They have two person who is inheriting the estate, so what you would do, you would subtract $10,000 from the $100,000, which leaves you $90,000, and if there are two of you, then you’d divide the $90,000 equally, which will give you about $45,000.

– [Anthony] Okay, fair enough. So this happens quite a bit. What if I ask but the executor or his attorneys or the family, you know, let’s say I’m estranged from the rest of the family or communication is a little stiff, what if nobody’s giving me any information? What if the family in New York or the attorney in New York is not giving me any information? What can I do? Is there anything I can do?

– [Maureen] Yes, certainly. You can hire a lawyer in New York to advocate on your behalf and try to get the information from the other side, the side that’s not sharing information. Recently, I worked on a case where the family resided in Texas; the person died in New York. They had a will and for some time there was some communication but the communication broke down and they were frustrated because nobody was talking to them, so they retained our services and the first thing we did was we filed what is called a notice of appearance. So what we’re doing is we’re alerting the court and the other side, the one that’s not sharing information, that we are representing the family in Texas and once I did that, then the next thing I did was I sent them a nice letter requesting the information and after they received the letter they were forthcoming with the information, which I was then able to provide to my client to alleviate their concerns.

– [Anthony] So that’s not a great answer. It means basically that the family won’t talk to me unless I lawyer up. Is that just kind of how the world works sometimes?

– [Maureen] Unfortunately, yes. If they’re not getting any information the only other option is for them to probably go in court and sort of compel the person who is administering the estate to share the information, basically compel an accounting, which, as you know, is a complicated process and so you need someone who knows the ins and outs of the court system and the law in order to assist you, and so you probably will need an attorney to help.

– [Anthony] Yeah, so I’m familiar, obviously, we work together, I’m familiar with these accountings and here’s how I like to describe it to somebody. A client who is an inheritor, a beneficiary, comes to us and says, hey, I’ll just read this accounting myself. Just remember back when you were a teenager or in your early 20s, and you got your first tax return. I mean, it’s in the English language and it’s math. It’s basically arithmetic that you understand, but you have no idea what you’re looking at.

– [Maureen] Exactly.

– [Anthony] If you remember. And over the years if you’re a little older now, just out of sheer familiarity, you might not be an expert but you can understand at least what the tax return means. Same thing with these accountings in probate court. The first time you look at it, if this is your first time being involved with an estate, you’re not gonna have any clue. You’ll have a very cursory understanding of what you’re looking at and that’s why you need an attorney to help review it with you. What do you think? Is that a good way of describing it, Maureen?

– [Maureen] Yeah, basically. And the attorney who is familiar with an accounting can spot discrepancies, and if you as the beneficiary knows that, say, your uncle had an asset or say, for example, he had a house that’s not on there, the attorney can advocate for you and say, hey, I think you’re missing something; what happened to the house? Why isn’t it listed on this accounting? Right? So the accounting can be informal or it can be formal where they have to account not just to the beneficiaries but also to the court. And depending on how much information they wanna share, it can go either way. If they wanna be totally up front about everything that they’ve done, then we can spare the cost and expense of petitioning the court for a formal proceeding.

– [Anthony] So my question, I guess, then is, How do I make sure, or how do you make sure that I’m gonna get my rightful share? What are the exact steps that we go through to ensure that?

– [Maureen] It starts with the accounting, and that can be informal, so the person who’s managing the estate can put all the numbers down on a paper and say this is what the decedent had when he passed away. These are all the bills that I paid, and this is the commission that I’m entitled to because when you serve as an executor or an administrator you’re entitled to receive some monetary benefits for the work that you’ve done, and then look at what’s left over, and depending on how many beneficiaries there are, how that would be divided.

– [Anthony] All right, I think we covered quite a bit from start to finish. If you don’t mind, let’s do a quick rundown of the different scenarios. Yeah, so we’ve already covered and cleared up that except for personal reasons, for purely legal reasons, I don’t necessarily have to come or fly to New York from out of state or out of the country, yeah?

– [Maureen] That’s correct, yes.

– [Anthony] But if I’m at the stage where it’s sort of unclear which family member is in charge or whether or not there’s a will, should I call you at that point, if that’s the client who I am? Tell me if I should call you at that point and how you’ll help me at that point.

– [Maureen] If you think that you are a beneficiary of an estate or you know someone left you something in a will, or if you’re related to someone who passed away and they didn’t have a will, then you contact us and we’ll have a conversation and then we can help you determine who is in charge of the estate. We can certainly get the records from the court and see who filed what document and who was appointed as either the executor or the administrator of the estate.

– [Anthony] Okay, very good. Let’s say I know where the estate is and who’s involved but it’s unclear if I should be in charge or if my brother should be in charge, or my cousin. Is that a good time to reach out to you as well?

– [Maureen] Yes, so if someone passed away, there are multiple persons who can serve as the administrator of the estate, and you wanna make sure that it’s handled properly because you don’t have any faith that the other people will be able to do it properly. Or if you just don’t trust them, definitely give us a call and we will help you get the process started.

– [Anthony] Cool, and then if the process has already begun with somebody else as the executor and it hasn’t been closed yet, we’re kind of in between. Executor has been appointed for a while. It feels like forever to me, right? How can you help me to figure out what’s going on? How do I find out what’s been done? What am I entitled to? Why aren’t they giving me information? Is that also a good time to reach out to you?

– [Maureen] Yes, definitely. You know, we can send a letter, do a phone call with the other side and try to see if they will be forthcoming with the information. Most often, they are, because a lot of people don’t wanna fight about the estate because that drives up the legal costs of administering the estate so they tend to wanna provide the information. You give us a call and we’ll be able to talk to the other side for you.

– [Anthony] Cool, and lastly, if the family or the executor is wrapping up the estate and saying, here’s your check; just sign this big stack of papers, but I don’t understand how they got to this number. It doesn’t feel like it’s the right amount, and they’re not giving me information to really understand if it’s the right amount, I should call you then as well, yes?

– [Maureen] Yes, you definitely need someone who is familiar with the accounting process in the surrogate’s court who can look at the documents, who can look at the numbers, and who can tell you whether or not what you’re getting is your fair share or your current share of the estate.

– [Anthony] All right, Maureen, Thanks so much for your time. This is super helpful; I think anyone who doesn’t live in New York but has, unfortunately, discovered that a relative has passed away in New York this is gonna be really useful information for those folks. Again, thanks again, and hopefully we’re able to help some folks in this situation.

– [Maureen] Thank you again, Anthony, for having me and for just talking through it, and hopefully we’ll be able to help someone out there who needs this information.

– [Anthony] And to the listeners, make sure to go to anthonyspark.com. That’ll be in the show notes where you can sign up for our email newsletter, reach out and find our contact information to contact us and otherwise just stay in touch. Thanks for listening again. Take care.