When a resident of New York dies with a will in place, the nominated executor must file a petition to probate the will in the Surrogate’s Court to obtain authority to administer the decedent’s estate. If a resident of New York dies without leaving a proper will, a petition must be filed in the Surrogate’s Court to appoint someone as administrator of the decedent’s estate. Once the executor/administrator (“fiduciary”) is formally appointed by the court, the fiduciary assumes various responsibilities to administer the decedent’s estate. An administrator typically shares the same responsibilities as an executor, unless the court limits the administrator’s authorities; the differences being the name of the title, and that an executor distributes assets pursuant to the terms of the will, while the administrator distributes assets pursuant to the terms of New York’s intestacy law.
An estate is its own legal entity. Among other things, one of the fiduciary’s important responsibilities is to determine whether an estate tax return must be filed and whether any estate taxes are owed. Estate taxes are different and separate from income taxes that may also be owed. Estate taxes are imposed on estates for the privilege to transfer an inheritance to beneficiaries. Estate taxes are assessed against all of the decedent’s assets at the time of death and may even include the value of assets the decedent gifted to individuals or transferred into trusts during the decedent’s lifetime.