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An Administrator of an Estate Is Not Allowed To Take the Estate’s Money or Property

Can an administrator of an estate withdraw cash from an estate account? Can he use an estate account for his own needs? Can he deposit estate funds into his own account? No. Why not? Because the estate’s money does not belong to the administrator – he is just managing it. What do we call it when a manager steals money he is managing? That’s right, it’s called embezzlement. Or more simply, stealing.

But how about if the administrator is also a beneficiary? Don’t some of the money in the estate account also belong to him? For example, a lady died without a will, survived by four children, and one of the children got appointed as the administrator of her estate. Can the administrator-child withdraw cash from the estate and say that he is just withdrawing his own cash? The answer to that is absolutely not. Even though the administrator is one of the beneficiaries of the estate account, in the end of the day the account is not his. The estate belongs to all the beneficiaries. So if an administrator uses the estate’s money for his own needs in any way or transfers estate money to himself, he is considered by the law to be taking everyone’s money, not just his own. As an example, if he takes four thousand dollars, he is not taking four thousand dollars of his own money. He is stealing a thousand dollars from each of his siblings. If he takes a penny, most of that penny belongs to the other beneficiaries.

What can happen if an administrator neglects good advice and does withdraw cash from the estate account? Nothing good. The administrator can be removed by the judge on the case. The court will force the administrator to return the money. The court might order the administrator to pay for his own attorneys’ fees as opposed to using estate funds to pay for his attorney’s fees. The judge may even order the administrator to pay the beneficiaries’ attorneys’ fees. What is scarier is that the administrator can even be criminally prosecuted for stealing. That’s right, a criminal prosecution even if the administrator is one of the beneficiaries of the estate account and even if the amount he took is less than his stake in the estate account. The Surrogate’s Court judge can refer the case to the District Attorney’s office, which has the power to prosecute the case in criminal court.

Similarly, the administrator cannot use an estate account as their personal bank account. As explained above, doing so is stealing and can lead to an array of legal woes.

Although we talk about an administrator, the same rules apply to an executor and a trustee, as well as a preliminary administrator, administrator d.b.n., administrator c.t.a.d.b.n., administrator c.t.a., ancillary administrator, ancillary administrator, and ancillary administrator c.t.a. [1]

Above, we’ve referred to the administrator as a manager. The legal term for someone managing money, including an administrator is “fiduciary.” [2] New York’s Estates, Powers and Trusts Law governs the conduct of an estate fiduciary, as well as a trustee and an agent under a Power of Attorney.

New York Consolidated Laws, Estates, Powers and Trusts Law – EPT § 11-1.6 states that “Every fiduciary shall keep property received as fiduciary separate from his individual property.  He shall not invest or deposit such property with any corporation or other person doing business under the banking law, or with any other person or institution, in his own name, but all transactions by him affecting such property shall be in his name as fiduciary.” [3]

New York’s Penal Law (the Criminal Law) states that “A person steals property and commits larceny when, with intent to deprive another of property or to appropriate the same to himself or to a third person, he wrongfully takes, obtains or withholds such property from an owner thereof.” [4]

The estate is the owner of the funds. If an administrator takes the funds for himself, by taking cash out of the bank account, using the estate bank account for his own uses or by depositing estate funds into a personal bank account, he commits larceny.

New York Penal Law continues to say that “Larceny includes a wrongful taking, obtaining or withholding of another’s property, with the intent prescribed in subdivision one of this section, committed … by conduct heretofore defined or known as common law larceny by trespassory taking, common law larceny by trick, embezzlement, or obtaining property by false pretenses.” [5]

To sum up, administrators should keep estate funds where they belong-in the estate account. Whenever they receive any funds relating to the estate in any way, those funds should be deposited into the estate account and not taken out without either signed consent from each and every beneficiary or an order of the court authorizing the administrator to disburse the funds.

The administrator should place all estate funds into an estate account

The administrator can only use estate funds to pay the legitimate expenses of the estate, taxes and legal fees.

Whether you are a beneficiary who thinks that the administrator is taking money from the estate, or if you are an administrator and you feel that you are being falsely accused of taking money from the estate, you can speak with New York estate attorney Albert Goodwin, Esq. He can be reached at (212) 233-1233.

[1] NY EPTL § 11-1.1

[2] NY EPTL § 11-1.1

[3] NY EPTL § 11-1.6

[4] NY PEN § 155.05

[5] NY PEN § 155.05

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