When a loved one dies in New York State, there will be many issues to navigate. Different people will have different roles in handling the probate and administration of the estate. It is important for people who have been entrusted with certain duties to know what they are supposed to do and how they can best fulfill their responsibilities. One issue that will come up is the role of the fiduciary of the estate.

The person’s estate will be divided after they have died. There are different terms for people who will serve different functions. This depends on the structure of the estate. When there is probate, the fiduciary is referred to as the executor and is general named in the decedent’s will. With a small estate, the fiduciary is the voluntary administrator. Should a person die intestate — without a will — the Surrogate’s Court will name the fiduciary who is called an administrator and it is often the closest relative, if there is one. 

Regardless of the will structure and the term used to describe the fiduciary, all will be legally obligated to act in good faith with the estate. Their interests cannot take precedence. It is possible that the Surrogate’s Court will want the fiduciary bonded prior to appointment. This is akin to an insurance policy and will give security to the assets in the estate. Should the fiduciary fail to properly care for the estate, the bonding company must reimburse the estate for whatever losses were incurred.

There are three basic responsibilities the fiduciary will have. They are: collecting, taking inventory and appraising the assets; paying the bills, taxes and other expenses of the decedent; and transferring property based on the will or based on the law if the person died intestate. For those who are moving forward with estate planning and thinking about how to decide who should handle the affairs after death or someone is concerned about what they must do as a fiduciary, it is essential to have legal help. A law firm that is experienced in every aspect of estate planning from the formulation of the plan to probate and more can help. Calling an estate planning and probate attorney is critical.