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7 Probate Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

Updated: Jul 19, 2023

If you've recently been appointed as the executor or administrator of a loved one's estate in New York and are about to embark on the probate estate administration process, it's essential to avoid common mistakes. Here are some key considerations specifically tailored for individuals in New York:

1. Hiring Competent Legal Counsel:

Probate can be complex, especially when combined with the emotional toll of losing a loved one. Instead of attempting to navigate the process alone, it is highly recommended to engage the services of an experienced estate attorney licensed in New York. They will ensure that the administrative tasks are completed correctly, protect you from potential pitfalls, and safeguard the interests of the estate and its beneficiaries.

2. Timely Initiation:

While it's important to allow yourself time to grieve, it's equally crucial to initiate the probate process within a reasonable timeframe. Delaying the process in New York can result in accumulating taxes (decreasing the value of the asset), increased pressure from creditors, and heightened impatience from beneficiaries. By promptly taking the necessary steps, you can alleviate external pressures and focus on the mourning process with peace of mind.

3. Accurate Accounting Records:

As an executor or administrator in New York, it is your primary responsibility to meticulously account for all estate assets. Maintaining accurate records is vital to facilitate tax payments, ensure proper distribution to beneficiaries, and submit a final accounting to the appropriate authorities. Pay attention to detail, use appropriate schedules, provide thorough descriptions, and document all relevant financial transactions to maintain transparency and avoid complications.

4. Effective Communication with Beneficiaries:

Open and regular communication with beneficiaries is crucial to preventing misunderstandings and minimize potential conflicts during the probate administration process. Keep beneficiaries informed and engaged, addressing their concerns, and providing updates regarding the estate's progress. Establishing a positive and transparent line of communication can significantly contribute to a smoother probate journey.

5. Prudent Distribution of Assets:

Exercise caution when distributing assets in New York. As the Executor/Administrator, you have the authority to approve creditor claims, pay outstanding debts, and distribute assets to beneficiaries. If possible, try to negotiate and reduce the debts with the creditors. You have an obligation to ensure that the estate's available assets are sufficient to honour all obligations according to the priority set by law. Failure to comply with the legal requirements may lead to personal liability.

6. Accurate Estate Tax Calculation:

In New York, all estates have the potential to be subject to federal gift and estate taxes. To avoid costly mistakes, it is crucial to accurately calculate these taxes and file the necessary estate tax returns on behalf of the estate. Working with an experienced estate planning attorney licensed in New York will help ensure the proper calculation and prevent any reduction in the estate's value meant for beneficiaries.

7. Proper Management of Assets:

As the executor or administrator in New York, securing and managing assets promptly is of utmost importance. Depending on the asset type, take appropriate measures to safeguard them. This may involve closing financial accounts or physically securing and maintaining real estate properties. Additionally, identify non-probate assets and handle them accordingly, such as trust assets, life insurance proceeds, certain jointly held properties, and funds held in specific retirement accounts.

To maximize your effectiveness as an executor or administrator in New York, it is highly recommended to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney before qualifying for the role. They can guide you through the specific legal requirements and obligations in the state, ensuring a competent and accurate administration of the estate. This is the best way to honour your loved one’s wishes.

About the Author

Leslie has been practicing law since 2009 and is the host of the estate planning podcast 'Legacy Purse'. She has a long history of representing family members struggling to inherit property and/or wealth from deceased family members through the Probate Courts. Knowing how time-consuming and expensive the probate process is, Leslie takes great pride in helping her clients learn how to plan and protect their families during their lives so they can avoid the probate court process and save their loved ones that additional grief (and expense).


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