The Role of an Attorney in the Probate and Estate Administration Process

If you are an executor, an experienced estate attorney can offer guidance and protection from legal challenge.

A skilled probate attorney can manage the entire estate administration process, or provide counsel on fine points of law. The level of legal support you require depends on your comfort and experience as an executor, your knowledge of the process, and importantly, the complexity of the estate you have been charged to settle.

How an estate administration attorney can help you

Estate administration can take from six months to over a year depending on the estate plan, assets, and entanglements that may only become visible as the process moves forward. Overall, the estate administration process is intended to inventory and collect assets, pay debts, transfer wealth to beneficiaries and close the estate with the appropriate schedules and accountings.

If you are experienced with finance and probate, you already have a good idea of the road ahead. For family members, or personal representatives undertaking estate administration for the first time, here are some of the types of tasks ahead of you—or that a trusted probate attorney can handle for you:

  • Initiate the probate process: Documents filed with the Surrogate’s Court will ensure the authority of the executor and the forward movement of the probate process. An executor has a fiduciary duty to the estate and acts on the legal behalf of the estate and its beneficiaries. The executor can be paid by the estate, and an executor can retain an attorney on behalf of the estate and the executor.
  • Collection and valuation of assets: If an estate plan is in place, the assets of an estate may already be scheduled. There could also be an estate plan that does not include all present assets, or the lack of a will or estate plan means there is little to go on for identification of the assets and wealth of the estate. The executor must locate, collect, and account for all the assets of the estate. This includes financial accounts, valuable objects like art and collections, an interest in a business, or a stock portfolio.

    Once the assets are determined, they must be assigned a value. This is accomplished through the appraisal process. An estate attorney can be very helpful at this point, providing guidance on appraisals and accounting of the assets. The location and valuation of assets can become a contentious issue between beneficiaries during the estate administration process. If an executor foresees issues with heirs, an experienced probate attorney can ensure transparency and a clear process to deter legal challenges from beneficiaries later in the probate process.

    At the same time, an executor is tasked with maintaining business assets or valuables. This could be an ongoing business or real estate. An executor also identifies creditors and pays estate bills.

  • Distribution and closing: When assets and value are inventoried and valued, and the debts of the estate are paid, the executor makes distributions guided by the will or estate plan. Trusts created and triggered by an active estate plan are managed by a trustee. When property, outside of trusts, is transferred, the executor winds-down the estates, and files documentation, including a tax return, to close the estate.

The role of an estate administration attorney is to provide needed counsel and service to the executor throughout the probate process, including litigated challenges to the will or the actions of the executor.

If you are named an executor of a complicated estate, or just have some questions about your role, be sure to get reputable legal advice.

Skilled estate administration attorneys serving New York and New Jersey

Lissner & Lissner LLP is an experienced trust and estate planning law firm offering straightforward, experienced advice to help your family or executor with issues that arise throughout the probate process. Contact us or call (212) 307-1499 today.