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Thursday, February 28, 2019

Can a court-appointed administrator steal from an estate?

If New York estate planning lawyers could get one thing through the heads of those who have put off estate planning on the common but mistaken belief that everything they have will go where they want it anyway, it would be that failure to properly plan for death or incapacity could be financially devastating to them and their loved ones before or after their death. 

First, anyone with a minor child needs a will for many reasons, but most importantly, to designate the legal guardian of any minor child in the event the parent dies before the child turns 18. Disagreement among parents as to who to designate as guardians is one of the reasons parents delay making their will. However, without a will, the court will decide who raises the child-- and it may not be someone the couple would have chosen. Without a will, which appoints an executor to carry out your wishes, not only will your property be divided among your relatives in accordance with your state’s intestacy statute, but an administrator will be appointed by the court to handle your estate-- and that person may or may not be someone you know or trust. 

Planning for incapacity is another part of a comprehensive estate plan. In addition to the will (or trusts) which disposes of your property upon your death, other documents protect you in the event you become disabled and unable to handle your affairs while you are alive. Documents such as powers of attorney and healthcare proxies allow you to appoint trusted friends and family to make your financial and/or healthcare decisions if you become unable to do so due to an accident, injury, or sickness. There are other documents in addition to those which round out planning for incapacity.
Recently, the former court-appointed administrator of a Westchester estate reportedly admitted embezzling $1.4 million before the estate’s sole heir could move to have him removed as administrator of his father’s estate. 
People who serve as executors or administrators or trustees of estates and trusts are under a fiduciary duty to protect and distribute the estate’s assets not breach the trust by squandering or stealing them. The former administrator has been criminally charged. 


Seeing a skilled estate planning attorney is the best way to protect yourself and your family from a similar situation. 
If you live in New York or New Jersey and need assistance with an initial estate plan or would like to modify an existing one, the estate planning experts at Merlino & Gonzalez can help you. Contact us today to schedule a consultation. 
From our offices in Staten Island, New York, and East Brunswick, New Jersey, we represent clients in both states in all matters of estate planning, estate administration, and real estate law.


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