Anyone making a last will and testament in Rochester, New York or the Finger Lakes area has to select a person to serve as executor of the estate. Executors have a number of specific responsibilities under the law, and he/she will be the person most responsible for ensuring that the decedent’s wishes are carried out.
You are never required to serve as anyone’s executor, so if someone asks you to take on this important role, there are several issues you will want to know about before you agree to serve.
Like every other state, the State of New York has its own laws that apply to the property left behind by a deceased person. These probate laws have numerous specific requirements, deadlines, and other details that executors must comply with.
The general public often views probate as a bureaucratic morass of rules and procedures. While there is some truth to this idea, sometimes the process moves more smoothly than other times.
When someone names you as executor in a will, someone will have to submit that will to a New York probate court. In New York, probate courts are known as Surrogate’s Courts. It’s up to the Surrogate’s Court to determine if the last will and testament is valid and, if so, to approve you as executor. Once it does this, the court will give you the legal authority to begin performing specific tasks.
The key idea here is to realize that while the Surrogate’s Court has certain responsibilities, much of the probate requirements are left up to the executor to perform. The court will not, for example, pay creditors or begin distributing estate property to beneficiaries. Those tasks, as well as many others, are entirely up to the executor to perform.
Fortunately, you as an executor don’t have to have a comprehensive understanding of the probate laws. All you have to do is make sure you have an experienced probate attorney who can advise you about what you have to do, when you have to do it, and what your legal options are.
Many of the duties an executor has boil down to practical steps. For example, will you be able to locate the will when the time comes to submit it to the court? Will you have a good understanding of what the decedent owns and where everything is located?
If you don’t know the answers to these questions now, you can help yourself out. Asking the will maker for a letter of instruction that will detail the practical necessities you will have to deal with ahead of time so you don’t have to find out later will make your job a lot easier.