1. What are the Common Words or Terms I Should Know?
2. What is the Office of the Public Administrator?
The Public Administrator is an agency of the City of New York. Each borough of the City of New York has its own Public Administrator. The Public Administrator of the County of New York administers the estates of New York County residents who die without a will and no one else is eligible or willing to administer the estates.
The Public Administrator's primary duties include collecting and distributing the assets of the deceased person, arranging appropriate funerals, and administering estates that would otherwise remain un-administered. The agency is primarily charged with protecting the assets of any estate it is administering.
The Public Administrator becomes involved in an estate:
Other duties of the Public Administrator include identifying and marshaling the assets of the decedent, creating an inventory of the decedent's tangible property, and paying the taxes, funeral bills, debts and other expenses of the estate. The office may secure the services of attorneys, accountants, auctioneers and other professionals, who are compensated by funds from the estate.
The Office of the New York County Public Administrator is an Equal Opportunity Employer.
3. Can I be a Fiduciary or Administer an Estate Without Being Appointed by the Surrogate's Court?
No. Only persons appointed as a fiduciary by the Surrogate's Court are authorized to act as the fiduciary of an estate.
4. How Does a Person Get Appointed as a Fiduciary by the Surrogate's Court?
You must file a document called a "Petition," along with other documents, as required by law. If the total assets to be administered are less than $30,000, the estate may qualify to be administered as a "Small Estate." Special simplified procedures govern the administration of Small Estates, and can be found in Article 13 of the Surrogate's Court Procedure Act. If the total estate assets are more than $30,000, the procedures are a bit more complicated. You may wish to consult an attorney, although one is not required. The Petition and other required forms may be obtained from the Administration Department of the New York County Surrogate's Court, 31 Chambers Street, Room 505, New York, NY 10007, (646) 386-5005.
5. Does the Public Administrator Need to be Appointed as Administrator by the Surrogate's Court Before Acting?
The rules governing when the Public Administrator can begin to act as the administrator of an estate are different from the rules that apply to individuals. The Public Administrator is permitted to act without the Court's authorization to collect and administer assets up to the amount of $30,000. Once it appears that the assets of an estate exceed $30,000, the Public Administrator will file a petition with the Surrogate's Court seeking to be appointed as administrator.
6. How Does the Public Administrator First Receive Notice of an Estate? How can I Report a Death to the Public Administrator?
The Public Administrator receives notice of an estate in various ways:
7. What are the Responsibilities of the Public Administrator?
Location of Beneficiaries and Heirs:
Possession of Assets:
Payment of Debts:
Sale of Personal and Real Property:
Distribution of Assets:
The Public Administrator must attempt to distribute the assets of an estate to those who are entitled to inherit them. When there is no Will, the proper order of those persons who are entitled to inherit an estate's assets is listed in the Estates Powers and Trust Laws Section 4-1.1. However, determining who is entitled to inherit what and locating those individuals can be time-consuming.
In some cases, those entitled to inherit have passed away. In other cases, there may be no current address for heirs or beneficiaries of a Will located among the decedent's possessions. These problems can delay the time of distribution.
After all assets are collected and the expenses of administration and valid debts and claims are paid, the Public Administrator will file an accounting with the New York County Surrogate's Court. The accounting is a document that reflects the actions taken by the Public Administrator on behalf of the estate. It details every penny collected and paid out. Persons with an interest in the estate, including distributees and claimants, are given notice of the accounting. The balance of the estate will be paid to the distributees (i.e., heirs) of the decedent, as determined by the Surrogate's Court in the accounting proceeding. Once the estate has been distributed, the Public Administrator is discharged as the fiduciary.
8. How can I File a Claim Against an Estate Being Administered by the Public Administrator?
You must complete and file a verified Claim Affidavit Form that must be properly notarized. The Claim Affidavit Form must be accompanied by sufficient documentation supporting the claim:
9. What can I do if I was the Decedent's Landlord?
If the decedent lived in a rental apartment, the landlord may file a Report of Death with the Public Administrator. If there are no known next of kin, then the Public Administrator will inventory the apartment, take any property of value, and release the apartment to the landlord. If there are known next of kin, or if a Will is found in the apartment, then the Public Administrator will usually not take any further action, unless the Office is appointed administrator of the estate by the Surrogate's Court. The landlord may be required to file a petition with the Surrogate's Court seeking the appointment of the Public Administrator.
10. How can I Retrieve a Deceased Person's Property from the Police Department?
11. How can I Retrieve a Deceased Person's Police Property that is in the Possession of the Public Administrator?
If you need to retrieve police property that is in the possession of the Public Administrator, you must present a "Certificate of Voluntary Administration," "Letters of Administration"or "Letters Testamentary"and a picture I.D. to the Public Administrator.
12. Categories of Estates Handled by the Public Administrator
Estates not exceeding $30,000.00* in value. The Public Administrator may act without Court authorization to marshal and distribute the assets of these estates, pursuant to Surrogate's Court Procedure Act.
Estates valued at $30,000.01* and above. The Public Administrator may act after receiving Letters of Administration.
Small Estates under $30,000* are closed by informal accountings to the interested parties.
Formal Estates $30,000* and over are closed by judicial accounting. Notice is given to all interested parties and submitted to the Surrogate for Court approval.
*For decedents dying on or after January 1, 2009.
13. Does the Public Administrator Receive a fee for its Services?
Yes. The Public Administrator receives the same commission as any other person who acts as administrator. The amount of the commission is fixed by statute (Surrogate Court's Procedure Act Sections 1106 and 2307). It is calculated on a sliding scale, based on the assets of an estate, starting at 5% of the first $100,000 and going down to 2% of any assets over $5 million. The Public Administrator's commissions are turned over to the general fund of the City of New York.The Public Administrator of New York County also receives an additional 1% of the gross assets of an estate, pursuant to SCPA §1106, which are applied toward the reasonable and necessary expenses of the Office.
14. Are There any Other Fees Charged to the Estate?
Yes. The Public Administrator hires an attorney to represent it and provide legal services relating to the administration of the estates handled by the Office. The attorneys are paid a legal fee, which is governed by a schedule adopted by the Administrative Board and is calculated on a sliding scale based upon the gross assets of the estate. The scale starts at 6% of the first $750,000 of assets and decreases in incremental steps to 1.5% of any assets over $5 million. All commissions and legal fees are subject to the approval of the New York County Surrogate's Court.The Public Administrator may also retain an accountant to prepare any income tax returns required for the estate.
15. Who are the Public Administrator's Attorneys?
The Public Administrator of New York County generally retains two law firms: Schram, Graber & Opell, P.C. and Finkelstein & Virga, P.C.
16. Do the Public Administrator's Attorneys Also Represent the Distributees?
No. The Public Administrator's attorneys will provide you with information about the estate, but they cannot represent you in a legal proceeding. As a distributee, you may be required to present proof of your status at a hearing in the Surrogate's Court. If you do not know of an attorney, and wish to retain one, you may contact the City Bar Justice Center's Planning and Estates Law Project at 212-382-6756, or the Association of the Bar of the City of New York referral service.