The Attorney's role is key to a smooth settlement of the estate and frequently the Executor/Administrator must rely on the attorney to insure that the estate is administered efficiently and accurately. Of course each estate is different, but here are the ways attorneys most commonly assist the Executor/Administrator. Note the parallels to the responsibilities of the Executor/Administrator (above).
PREPARING THE ESTATE FOR DISTRIBUTION:
Preparing legal documentation. Preparing the petition and all related documents needed to probate the Will of the decedent with the Surrogate's Court and to obtain Letters Testamentary for the nominated Executor (or obtain Letters of Administration for the Administrator, as applicable). This includes filing these documents and any involvement with the Surrogate's Court required for the application;
Reviewing the decedent's financial and personal records. This includes locating the decedent's property and contacting third parties to identify the decedent's property;
Examining the contents of decedent's safe deposit boxes. This includes any applications to the Surrogate's Court and other legal documentation required by the bank to access the safe deposit boxes;
MANAGING THE ASSETS DURING THE ESTATE SETTLEMENT PROCESS:
Obtaining an employer identification number for the estate from the Internal Revenue Service;
Communicating with the representatives of each financial institution where the decedent maintained an account to liquidate or transfer the decedent’s assets including preparing he paperwork required by the financial institution;
Communicating with creditors such as credit card companies and health care providers. This may include negotiating a compromise for outstanding debts;
Determining the date-of-death values of each of the decedent’s assets and arranging for appraisals of the real property and tangible personal property in which decedent had an nterest and reviewing the appraisals to confirm that they accurately reflect the date-of-death values of those assets;
Completing the documents and submitting the proofs necessary to process the life insurance policies insuring the decedent;
Determining whether the decedent’s estate or family members have a viable lawsuit for the manner in which decedent died or for any injury or loss suffered by the decedent prior to eath;
ASSURING COMPLIANCE WITH TAX REGULATIONS:
Applying for releases of estate tax lien on the decedent’s real property from Federal and New York State taxing authorities;
Handling all tax-related matters pertaining to the estate. These include preparing the Federal and New York State estate tax returns, the decedent’s final income tax returns, and the estate’s Federal and New York State fiduciary income tax returns. Preparation of those returns should include how to value assets for estate tax reporting and capital gains and losses reporting purposes as well as an analysis of how to synchronize the receipt of income and the payment of expenses and distributions in order to produce maximum income tax savings;
Preparing, if required, an estate tax plan for one or more of the beneficiaries. This may include preparing legal documentation on behalf of the spouse or other beneficiaries of the estate such as Disclaimers and Renunciations;
CLOSURE OF THE ESTATE PROCESS:
Preparing an informal accounting of the estate’s activities from the date of decedent’s death to its conclusion;
Preparing receipts and releases on behalf of the Executor/Administrator.certifying that each of the beneficiaries of the estate has received the share
to which he or she is entitled to and acknowledging that the Executor/
Administrator has performed his or her duties in a proper manner.
Additional legal services would be required in some cases, such as if the Will is challenged by an heir; if assets or debts become the subject of litigation; or if a judicial accounting proceeding is required.