Losing a loved one is never easy. In addition to working through the emotional upheaval, there are numerous legal steps to navigate. Chief among them is probate – the court process for validating a will (if there is one) and transferring assets.
The probate process can seem intimidating. As an executor – that is, the representative of your loved one’s estate – you have many legal obligations to fulfill. Missteps can be costly. Understanding the basics is thus an essential first step.
Here are three key things to know about probate in New York:
1. Not all estates need to go through probate.
Estates that have less than $50,000 in personal property – and no real property – may qualify for the small estate process (also called “voluntary administration”). It’s generally faster and less complicated.
Some estates are structured to avoid probate (and the time and expense that go along with it). The assets may be held in trusts or, in the case of real estate, deeded in a way that allows a direct transfer. Retirement accounts, payable-on-death accounts and similar assets with designated beneficiaries can also be transferred without going through probate.
2. Assets and debts must be addressed.
Many people think of probate as a way to transfer assets – and that’s certainly a major component. But it’s also a process for resolving the estate’s debts. Taxes, mortgages, personal loans, credit card bills, auto loans, medical bills and other debts must all be addressed. That might mean paying them off, transferring them along with the property (in the case of a mortgage or auto loan), or even disputing or renegotiating certain debts, if warranted.
3. It takes time.
The probate process doesn’t happen overnight. Depending on the complexity of the estate, it may take many months to fully resolve the proceedings. Patience is key. It’s far better to take a thorough, careful approach than to be sloppy and rushed.
That said, there may be opportunities along the way to expedite the process. Prompt communication with your attorney is critical for moving it forward.
Learn more about the complexities of the probate process.