At Merlino & Gonzalez, our estate planning attorneys have been helping clients not just in Staten Island, but all of New York and New Jersey handle their probate issues for more than 20 years.
While this can be a straightforward matter, sometimes it can also be a costly and time-consuming process, particularly for those with substantial estates. In many situations, however, our resourceful probate attorneys can arrange your finances in a way that helps you to avoid it altogether.
Whether you’ve been chosen as a personal representative (the executor) for a loved one or want to take steps to plan your own estate, our team is ready to help.
What is Probate in New York and New Jersey?
Probate is the legal process through which a person’s Last Will and Testament is legally validated before being administered, and their assets distributed to their beneficiaries.
Even if a person dies without an official will in place, their estate must still go through the probate process. If you’re coping with the death of a family member and have been designated as a personal representative of that family member, you’re going to want the assistance of a sharp probate attorney to help you carry out your legal duties.
The Purpose of Probate
Probate is designed to protect the rights of those chosen by the deceased to inherit their estate.
Whether they are direct heirs or other named beneficiaries, these individuals have to be informed about their inheritance as quickly as possible after the death occurs. Probate also determines what the estate owes in taxes and to creditors so these bills can be paid before the remaining property is distributed.
What Part Does the Personal Representative Play in the Probate Process
Typically, the personal representative of an estate is a close relative or friend of the decedent, though an attorney, accountant, bank, or trust company can also fill the role. The duties of the personal representative include:
- Inventorying the decedent’s assets and, if necessary, having them assessed.
- Protecting these assets by opening an estate bank account.
- Notifying all named beneficiaries, heirs, and creditors.
- Paying any owed income taxes, other bills, and administrative fees.
- Petitioning the probate court to validate the will.
- Paying any necessary state and federal estate taxes.
- Distributing the remaining assets to the beneficiaries.
If this list of duties sounds like a lot to handle, that’s because it often is! So if you’ve assumed the role of executor, having a probate attorney to guide and support you is essential. We have in-depth knowledge of current probate and estate administration laws and can act as your expert advocate if any problems arise.
Formal and Informal Probate
Most probate is informal, meaning it’s not necessary for a probate judge to preside over the process. Instead, informal probate administration is usually overseen by the county registrar. And it’s useful to know that the informal variety is usually accomplished through the mail and is not nearly as costly or time-consuming as the formal version.
Formal probate becomes necessary if an original copy of the decedent’s will can’t be located, if there are any disputes over the validity of the will, if there might be competing wills, or if the identity of the heirs raises questions. In these cases, a judge will assume an oversight position over the process, and it can take a lot more time and resources to complete.
How Probate Can be Avoided
Even if you’re unfamiliar with what probate is, you might have heard that it should be avoided at all costs. Luckily, New York and New Jersey, like most other states, have made it easy for “small estates” (under $50,000) to take shortcuts through probate by using affidavits or simplified court procedures.
Even for large estates, there are certain assets that pass outside of probate, including:
- Designating named beneficiaries on life insurance policies.
- Setting up joint ownership of property with right of survivorship.
- Setting up bank accounts that are joint or have “pay on death” (POD) or “in trust for” provisions.
- Keeping funds in an IRA, pension, 401k, or other retirement accounts.
- Putting property in a revocable or irrevocable trust.
But these steps need to be taken before your passing, and our probate attorneys can help make sure that happens. With the right estate planning, you can protect your estate from the expenses and delays associated with the process.
Costs in New York
If you have a large amount of accumulated wealth, you may have concerns about how your estate will be affected by estate taxes, especially considering that you may also pay a significant amount in court costs, probate bonds, fees to your personal representative, appraisal costs, and attorney fees. On top of that, federal and state estate tax exemptions are increased each year to align with inflation. For example, in 2022, New York State only taxed estates worth $6.11 million or more.
The nitty-gritty of estate taxation is complicated for those unfamiliar with it. That’s why our attorneys are happy to meet with you and help you understand the system, how it affects you, and determine your best options for lowering your taxes and avoiding probate costs.
The Length of the Process
For small estates, probate is informal and less time-consuming, but the process for nearly any size estate typically requires at least 7 allowable months to account for any unknown creditors who might come forward. But in general, depending on the size of the estate and several other factors, probate usually takes on average between 9 and 18 months, though a contested will or any other type of litigation can delay the process.
Contact Our Experienced Staten Island Probate Attorneys Today!
At Merlino & Gonzalez, we know that probate is a weighty legal process, but we also understand the wide range of human emotions that it can often involve. It can be a delicate time to wade through, whether you’re planning your own future or dealing with the death of a loved one. So if you’re looking for compassionate support as well as excellent legal counsel, reach out to our team today.
Merlino & Gonzalez help residents of New York & New Jersey with their probate 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.