A recent article in New York’s Daily News reports on the Queens County political machine and its incredible control over proceedings in that county’s Surrogate’s Court. It is a primer on the perils of what can happen where there is no Will and no decent estate plan. Your lawblogger has often commented on the way in which a Public Administrator can affect the outcome of an estate. While the Public Administrator generally has the job of handling the estates of folks who die without a will and who have no relatives to step up and administer their estates, there is also a significant number of estates where executors and administrators do not qualify to serve and they are replaced by the Public Administrator.
The Public Administrator is a business unto itself, collecting all of the assets due the estate, paying the bills and disbursing to the distributees of the deceased. Along the way, they hire the brokers who are needed to sell parcels of real estate, contractors to clean up and repair assets and auctioneers to sell items such as art, coin collections, cars and boats. The Public Administrator employs a law firm to handle all of the legal work involved and the fees generated and paid can be huge!
It’s good to be a friend or political crony of the Public Administrator and it can be really costly to an estate! Although some of the estates handled are small and unprofitable, estates valued in excess of one million dollars are not uncommon. The Public Administrator earns a commission on every dollar brought into and estate –and on every dollar paid out. While many of my clients will serve as executors or administrators for the estate of a family member without taking the commission provided for by law, the Public Administrator always takes the commission.
So many of the problems that involve the Public Administrator can be avoided with a little bit of planning. One of the obvious answers, of course, is simply to have a well-drawn will appointing executors and trustees who are up to the task. Using self-directed assets such as an ITF bank account, retirement account or a trust can basically eliminate the need for the Public Administrator to step into the breach. Failing to do this can cost many thousands of dollars and incredible aggravation.