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What is an Estate Administrator – What Responsibilities do they Have

What is an Estate Administrator

An estate administrator is someone who acts on behalf of an estate of the person who died without a will. The job of the estate administrator is basically to notify all of the decedent’s distributees (people who are entitled to their inheritance), collect all the assets, pay all the debts, provide an accounting of the estate to the distributees, and distribute the assets to the distributees.

The way to get appointed as an estate administrator is by petition. The beneficiaries would typically make an application to the court to appoint an estate administrator. The court would typically appoint one of the beneficiaries as the estate administrator, if the beneficiaries can agree on which one it’s going to be. If the beneficiaries cannot agree, then the court would appoint an independent third-party estate administrator of the court’s choosing.

If you are looking for an attorney to handle your estate matter where an estate administrator is involved, you can call Albert Goodwin, Esq. at 212-233-1233.

Relationship of the Estate Administrator to the Person Who Died

The person most closely related to the person who died has the biggest preference in being appointed the estate administrator. Here is the order of preference of becoming an estate administrator:

    1. spouse
    2. children
    3. grandchildren
    4. father or mother
    5. brothers or sisters
    6. and if none of those are found, then to the person who are entitled to the larges share of the estate (NY SCPA 1001(1)).

If no relative steps forward, then the public administrator of the county where the decedent lived steps forward and becomes the estate administrator. The public administrator is also involved in any estate where the administrator is a cousin, niece or nephew or further relationship to the decedent.

Like we said before, an estate administrator is appointed if the executor originally named in the will is not available, when the executor either cannot be found, died, cannot or do not want to serve as the executor of estate or executor of will.

Letters of Administration

An estate administrator will receive Letters of Administration from the Surrogate’s Court. They look something like this:

New York Letters of Administration for Estate Administrator

The estate administrator also receives a Certificates of Administration from the court, as many as they request (at $6 each) to present to banks and other institutions when they marshal the assets of the estate. This is what a Certificate of Appointment of Administrator would look like:

New York Certificate of Appointment of Estate Administrator

A female estate administrator used to be called administratrix but that definition no longer plays a role, as that distinction has been eliminated by the courts in favor of gender-neutral language. It is now against court rules to refer to someone as administratrix only executor or administrator is allowed.

The Estate Administrator’s Responsibilities

An administrator’s duties vary and may include the following:

  • Managing the estate assets including bank accounts, stock, bonds, retirement accounts, pensions
  • Taking inventory of assets, including personal and real property
  • Investing assets
  • Selling personal and real property
  • Distributing assets
  • Paying creditors and other claims including funeral expenses and any estate taxes that may be due out of estate assets
  • Contacting an employer to find out about the testator’s employee benefits
  • Managing the testator’s business
  • Making accountings
  • Communicate with the beneficiaries on a regular basis to keep them informed of important financial matters
  • Resolving disputes that may arise between beneficiaries
  • Winding up and settling the estate

There are all sorts of other contractual or legal matters that may require an administrator’s attention. For instance, if the testator owned commercial property and had tenants, the administrator may have to collect rents, work with a property management company or hire one depending on the size of the building and the number of tenants. The administrator may have to work with attorneys and accountants in order to make sure assets are properly valued and contractual obligations are completed.

An administrator is entitled to receive compensation for his or her services in accordance with the rates set by law. When a spouse or a family member acts as administrator, many times they do not take compensation for their services, especially when they are also a beneficiary receiving a distribution of assets under the will.

An Estate Administrator Can Be Required to Show their Kinship

The potential estate administrator may be required to show how they are related to the decedent, in order to demonstrate to the court that they are the closest living relative and as such, have the preference to serve as the administrator. This is called kinship.

The person applying to be an administrator may be required to obtain consent from other relatives who are as closely related as the potential estate administrator. Or they may be required to officially notify those relatives of their intent to become the estate administrator.

Depending on the situation, the potential estate administrator may be required to submit a family tree affidavit showing all the relatives of the decedent starting with their parents or grandparents as to how the potential estate administrator is the closest living relative to the decedent. This is especially true if the estate administrator is the sole surviving distributee of the estate or is a non-relative. The family tree affidavit has to be signed by a disinterested person who is not a spouse or child of the estate administrator candidate.

In some situations, it may be sufficient to have the family tree affidavit be signed by a person with the knowledge of the family tree. In other situations, the potential estate administrator may need to show documents in support of the family tree, such as birth and death certificates. Making family trees and showing such documents can be pretty difficult, especially if the person who died or their ancestors immigrated from another country.

An Estate Administrator is Likely to Be Required to Post a Bond

For an estate administrator, the court is more likely to require a bond. A bond is essentially insurance that covers losses to the estate, with yearly payments to the insurance company that underwrites the bond. A person with a low credit score would have more difficulty getting the bond and consequentially more difficulty becoming an estate administrator.

Restrictions on the Estate Administrator

When an estate administrator is appointed, courts of most New York counties restrict their powers. Kings County Surrogate’s Court is especially well known for this. For example, the court might restrict their powers to collecting only $200,000, or restrict their powers to sell real estate such as a house, requiring them to make an extra application to the court to collect over $200,000 or to sell a house.

If the administration of the estate is contested, then there can be more restrictions. If there are people who object to the appointment of the estate administrator, things get more complicated. The same goes for when the court is suspicious of something. If that happens, the courts may require additional proof from an estate administrator before they get appointed, such as additional kinship information and a kinship hearing or a kinship trial. The court may also hold hearings on the qualification of the person who is asking to be the estate administrator. Courts can place additional restrictions on appointment, such as restricting letters of administration

Notice to All Heirs and Potential Heirs

A potential estate administrator has to give the proper notice to people affected by their appointment to that role.

A person who wishes to get appointed as the estate administrator has to give notice of the probate proceeding to everyone who inherits under the will, relatives who would have inherited if not for this will, and people who would have inherited under a prior will that was overwritten by the current will.

Notice of probate is sufficient to people inheriting under the will. For people whose prior inheritance rights are terminated by the will, a citation issued by the court will be required.

A person who wishes to get appointed as an estate administrator needs to give notice to everyone who stands to inherit from the person who died (“distributees”).

In order to get appointed to be in charge of an estate, the person applying to be the estate administrator needs to either obtain written waivers and consent of the people they notified or have to schedule a hearing date where the people notified of the date have a chance to appear and voice any of their reservations.

Affidavit of Sole Heirship

Whenever an estate administrator is the sole heir of the decedent, they may be required to submit an affidavit of sole heirship, whereby a non-interested party who is familiar with the family of the person who died or a professional genealogist or perhaps even the attorney representing the executor who did the right research signs an affidavit which explains the family situation of the person who died and how it worked out that the person who died left only one heir.

Administrator Commissions

Administrators are usually entitled to compensation. This compensation is called “commissions.” The amount an administrator is paid in New York is set by law, in SCPA 2307. Here are the commission percentages:

• 5% of the first $100,000
• 4% of the next $200,000
• 3% the next $700,000
• 2.5% of the next $4 Million
• 2% of the rest of the value of the estate

Fiduciary Duty of an Administrator

An administrator is held a higher standard of behavior and is expected to act in an honest, fair and ethical manner. If an administrator breaches their fiduciary duty, the administrator could be held legally liable for any losses suffered by the estate or beneficiaries. An administrator in New York can be removed by the beneficiaries for breach of fiduciary duty and could be subject to restitution of any financial losses to the estate and beneficiaries, as well as face criminal charges if the administrator committed any crimes such as embezzlement of estate assets.

Acting an administrator is a big responsibility, especially if an estate is large and has substantial assets. That is why some spouses or family members decide they do not want to take on the job and end up resigning and hiring an attorney or another personal representative to replace them and administer the estate.

If you are in a situation where an estate administrator is being appointed, you may require the services of a New York estate lawyer. I have been helping people deal with estates for more than a decade. My name is Albert Goodwin and I can be reached at (212) 233-1233 or attorneyalbertgoodwin@gmail.com. I look forward to securing your estate for generations to come.