What do you do if a person passes away without a Last Will and Testament?
A Last Will and Testament designates an Executor who has legal authority to handle the estate assets. The Will also specifies who receives what, and in what way. The estate of someone who dies without a Will is called “intestacy” or “an intestate estate,” which is Latin for “without a Will.” If a person owns assets that are not jointly owned or assets that don’t have a named beneficiary, they are “in limbo” upon death and cannot be handled until the County Surrogate appoints an Administrator.
The process begins with an application to the County Surrogate where the deceased was living at time of death (this is written on the death certificate). Call the Surrogate or look on their website to find out the exact procedures. It will be necessary to submit an original death certificate and the names and addresses of the next of kin, as well as an estimate of the estate assets (if known). State law gives priority to the next of kin to be appointed as Administrator, but notice has to be given to similarly-situated kin (such as siblings of the person who is applying) so that they can renounce their right to be appointed to this job. Generally the Administrator has to obtain an insurance bond to protect the assets. If the estate is large, this can require a significant cash outlay — yet another reason to sign a Will, in which you appoint an Executor who can serve without bond. Once the Administrator is appointed, s/he has legal authority to handle he estate assets. There will still be many procedures to take care of before the estate can, finally, be given out to the heirs.
The next steps involve obtaining an EIN# from the IRS (because an estate is an independent entity); setting up an Estate checking account; collecting the bills; dealing with personal property; identifying all of the assets and determining whether any of them have a named beneficiary or co-owner; making decisions about liquidations of assets; and dealing with real estate (to name a few). There will often be a need to file the final income tax returns as well.
Many unusual issues pop up in estates, and getting early legal advice can help the Administrator avoid some of the pitfalls and quicksand that create greater problems later.
Call us for advice about estate administration …… 732-382-6070