New York & New Jersey Estate Administration Attorney

Client signing real estate document

Let Our Estate Administration Attorneys Help You Avoid Probate

Estate settlement is a process through which the executor manages the estate of a deceased person. Because estate and trust regulations are complex, and because each individual’s financial and familial situation is unique, if you are the designated executor, it is essential to work on this project with a skilled, well-informed estate administration attorney. Also, since estate settlement legislation differs from state to state, it is important to work with an attorney who has in-depth familiarity with the laws of your state. 

Merlino & Gonzalez, with conveniently located offices in New York and New Jersey, has an outstanding probate law practice. Our attorneys not only have excellent credentials, but have won numerous awards for their diligence and success. We are dedicated to comforting you during a difficult time and easing the stress of your duties as an executor. Our goal is to clarify your role and pave the way for a smooth transition after the loss of a loved one. Whatever the circumstances of your loved one’s death, or the preparations he or she made (or didn’t make) for his or her passing, our caring attorneys will guide you through.

Probate & Estate Administration

Probate is the court-supervised process through which the assets of the decedent are transferred to designated beneficiaries; it can be a prolonged, expensive process. Before any beneficiaries receive their inheritance, the debts and taxes of the deceased have to be paid. If assets have been put into trusts, the executor should be able to administer the estate without probate. If trusts have not been created, however, the steps of the probate process will include: 

  • Filing a petition with the appropriate probate court
  • Notifying heirs mentioned in the will
  • Petitioning appointment of the selected executor or a court-appointed administrator
  • Taking a full inventory of the estate
  • Having the estate’s assets appraised by professionals
  • Selling any estate assets that need to be sold
  • Expediting payment of estate debts to legitimate creditors
  • Paying any necessary estate taxes
  • Making a final distribution of assets to legitimate heirs 

In the absence of a will, the Surrogate’s court appoints an administrator to take on the duties the executor would have assumed. The administrator is usually a surviving spouse, a child or grandchild of the deceased. It is generally more difficult for an out-of-state relative to get appointed to this role for logistical reasons. If several people want to serve as administrator,preference is given to those who stand to inherit the largest share of the estate. In New York, the administrator cannot be a minor, a convicted felon, a substance abuser or someone who is mentally incompetent. In New Jersey, the designated executor can serve unless he or she is found to be incapacitated or guilty of serious misconduct.

Probate Duration and Estate Administration Costs in New York

Most estates that have to go through probate are settled in approximately 9 to 18 months. If there is any litigation involved, the process will take longer. Typically, probate costs are up to 5 to 7 percent of the estate’s total value.  

Executor Fees

There are several fees involved in the estate settlement process. These include executor fees, attorney fees, accounting fees, court costs and appraisal costs. If you are assigned and accept the role of executor of a loved one’s estate, you will be reimbursed for your hard work as well as for any out-of-pocket expenses involved in managing and distributing the estate. The amounts of executor compensation in New York State are as follows:

  • Five percent for receiving and paying out money not exceeding $100,000
  • Four percent for receiving and paying out additional money not exceeding $200,
  • Three percent for receiving and paying out additional money not exceeding $700,

Under New Jersey law, an executor is entitled to 6 percent of the income earned by the estate. This compensation is usually assessed as interest from money held in the estate’s bank account. If, for example, during the period during which the estate is settled, $10,000 in income is generated, the executor is entitled to 6 percent of that amount, or $600.

Contested Wills

As one would expect, when a will is contested, the process of estate settlement becomes more complicated and often contentious. Wills can only be contested by individuals who have legal standing to raise objections — typically spouses or offspring (by birth or adoption) of the decedent. Fortunately, the attorneys at Merlino & Gonzalez know the situations that provoke contested wills and how to avert disputes. In most cases, wills are contested when:

  • One child is left out of the will
  • Siblings are left unequal inheritances
  • There was an earlier version of the will to which changes have recently been made
  • The choice of executor is questioned or disputed

Non-Probate Assets

Certain assets of the deceased are outside the boundaries of probate. Non-probate assets include:

  • Jointly owned property with right of survivorship
  • Retirement accounts, such as IRAs or 401ks, which have designated beneficiaries
  • Life insurance policies with designated beneficiaries
  • Bank accounts with “in trust for” or “payable upon death” (POD) designations
  • Property owned by a living trust

Trust Settlement

If, in addition to the sorrow of losing a loved one, you have been charged with taking the role of successor trustee, you will have to go through a number of steps as you settle the decedent’s estate. The first several steps, depending on the organizational abilities of the deceased, will be more or less taxing. You will have to: 

  • Take a careful inventory of the estate assets and all planning documents
  • Have real estate, artwork, collectibles, jewelry and businesses professionally appraised 
  • Locate any written funeral, cremation, burial or memorial instructions
  • Locate all data relating to the decedent’s assets: bank and brokerage statements, insurance policies, loan statements, credit card bills, medical and funeral bills
  • Locate the past 3 years of the decedent’s income tax returns
  • Locate all trust information

When you have located all of these important papers, you will need to make an appointment with one of our trust attorneys. Once you provide us with these documents, we will establish a date of death for estate values in order to certify a comprehensive statement of the estate’s assets and debts. We will also assist you in determining whether probate is required and whether you will need legal assistance to help terminate one or more existing trusts. In addition, we will help you sort out which creditors have to be paid, whether any estate taxes, state taxes, or inheritance taxes are owed, or if any nonprobate assets were owned by the decedent. Beyond helping you arrange to pay the decedent’s final bills, we will help you set up an efficient method of managing the ongoing expenses of administering any remaining trusts.

Aside from filing the decedent’s final income tax return by April 15th following the year of the decedent’s death, your job as successor trustee will also involve preparing and filing tax returns for any income the estate earns during the course of your administration.

Distributing Funds to Beneficiaries and Closing the Estate

The very last step in estate and trust settlement is distributing inheritance checks to beneficiaries. Once you have engaged the services of Merlino & Gonzalez, we will stay with you to tie up all possible loose ends, making sure that requisite taxes have been paid and that enough assets have been put aside for payment of final bills before any checks are given to beneficiaries. This is important because if you distribute assets prematurely, you may have to pay final estate expenses out of your own pocket.

Why come to Merlino & Gonzalez for Staten Island estate administration cases?

We are fully prepared to ease your way as you move through this often painful, tedious, and sometimes cumbersome process. Because of our extensive experience, we are able to be efficient. Because of our concern for your well-being, we are able to be patient and compassionate. To get in touch with us, please phone us or fill out a contact form on our website.

Merlino & Gonzalez help residents of New York & New Jersey with their estate administration needs. Since their primary office is in Staten Island, they receive a lot of clients there as well as in the boroughs of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, & The Bronx.