Let’s talk about costs. There are is a suggested guideline rate regarding the fees that lawyers may charge for the core legal services. In most cases, the approach we take is to provide a flat, fixed fee rate for the work involved in the application process to the Surrogate Court. Setting a fee is about giving certainty to the executor (who has to ultimately report to the beneficiaries) but also about reasonableness. We will also talk with you about the value to the estate so you are not taking this journey alone. We will also help to bring in other advisors as required, such as accountants, financial planners, bankers, appraisers, and the like.
The process of administering an estate has different phases and our role in those phases is adjusted to fit the circumstances:
- The application phase: to become the legal representative of the estate, an application is required to the Surrogate Court. The application has to comply with the Surrogate Rules and that involves serving notice (in the proper manner) to all the beneficiaries and to those that are required to be served, even if they are not beneficiaries of the estate (like the Office of the Public Trustee/Guardian, former spouses, etc.)
- The Administration phase: Once the grant of probate or grant of administration is issued by the Surrogate Court, the estate enters the administration phase. An estate account can be opened at a bank, the assets collected and debts paid. There are at times legal issues involved in collecting assets and we advocate on behalf of the estate representative to collect those assets. This may involve demand letters or collection proceedings. There may be debts of the estate that that have to assessed. A legal opinion is sometimes required to determine the validity of the debt; sometimes an application to the court is required to make a determination.
- The Distribution phase: Once the estate is substantially of fully administered, some or all of the remaining property of the estate can be distributed to the beneficiaries of the estate. We help the executor prepare a report to the beneficiaries and obtain interim/final releases. If necessary, we can assist with any applications to the court to finalize the distribution in the estate.
Disputes in estates are not infrequent. We see our goal as keeping our clients out of the court process. But there are times when advocacy is required in situations where the alternatives have been exhausted or the opposing party is being unreasonable. Going to court can be an intimidating and uncertain process. We assist with compassion and understanding. No one likes to go through this process and we pursue the quickest avenues to resolution. Areas of dispute in estates can include:
- Choice of administrator
- The capacity of the deceased person’s will
- Pre-death transactions in suspicious circumstances
- Formal passing of accounts
- Advice and direction applications
- Defending applications by beneficiaries