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Estate Administration

The loss of a loved is one of the most emotionally difficult times for a family. During this time of grief, however, the matter of attending to the deceased family member’s estate must be addressed, which often proves to be a daunting responsibility for the grieving surviving family members to undertake.  Navigating the maze of the legal system, while focusing on a myriad of tax and financial issues is a complex and time-consuming responsibility. The Estate Planning done by the deceased during his or her lifetime will dictate what is necessary in administering the estate.  If the deceased executed a Last Will and Testament during his or her life, probate may be necessary.  While the term itself often conjures up disturbing thoughts in the mind of many, probate is very simply the process by which the executor, nominated in the deceased’s Will, files the Will with the surrogate’s court, so that the court may deem the instrument valid, and appoint the nominated individual as executor (representative of the estate), thereby giving him or her the authority to act as such and administer the estate. Where there is no Will, an individual petitions the court to be appointed “administrator” (representative of the estate), whereby the court authorizes such individual to act as the personal representative of the estate and perform all necessary duties and responsibilities. The primary responsibility of the representative is to marshal, or collect, the assets of the decedent.  In order to do so, the representative must first ascertain what assets exist in the first place, and then determine the value of each asset as of the date of death.  This “snapshot” of the estate assets and their values as of date of death serves as a starting point in determining whether an estate will be taxable, or at the very least, whether an estate tax return must be filed.  If so, the return must be filed within nine months from the date of death. The income that the estate assets generate during the administration process will be subject to income tax.  In this respect, the estate is taxed as a separate entity and obtains a separate tax identification number.  A separate estate income tax return must be filed if the estate assets generate more than $600 in any given year of the estate. The executor or administrator is also responsible for attending to the debts of the decedent, the expenses incident to the administration of the estate and any claims that are brought forward in a timely fashion.  After such concerns are addressed, the representative of the estate makes distributions from the estate to the beneficiaries or distributees of the estate, after which the representative files a final account and may close the estate. In settling an estate, it is vital that the representative proceed in a manner that is legally appropriate and minimizes any estate or income taxes, while maximizing all available tax exemptions and credits.  Further, where an individual may have failed to adequately plan during his or her lifetime, there are certain post-mortem tax strategies that can be implemented to make use of allowances that may have otherwise been missed.  Proceeding under the guidance of attorneys experienced in this field is of utmost importance. Our attorneys handle all aspects of settling an estate, including guiding our clients through the probate or administration process, assisting representatives of estates identify and collect assets, preparing all necessary estate, income and gift tax returns, and addressing the need for post-mortem tax planning, where appropriate. To receive a free copy of A Simple Guide to Understanding the Complexities of Elder Law – a helpful booklet we distribute to our clients which contains definitions and explanations of some important terms – please contact us.