Who is Responsible for the Expenses of the Estate?

The concept of an “estate” has been around since the old ages, and has been daunting to lawyers and non-lawyers alike.  An estate is any property or right belonging to the decedent, whether personal property, real estate, and any intangibles.  The debts of someone’s estate might be of interest to you if you are the executor of the estate, the beneficiary, or are pursuing a claim against the estate.  As an executor or beneficiary of the estate, you might be wondering where does your responsibility lie in the upkeep and the satisfaction of any outstanding bills during the pendency of probate or administration.

The estate property may consists of real estate such as a house in which the decedent lived, that still requires homeowners insurance, maintenance, property taxes, and payment of electric, gas, and water bills.  What if someone gets injured on the property, due to a dangerous condition that was left behind by the decedent or the failure to maintain the property after the decedent’s passing? Who is responsible for that injured individual’s damages? Is it is the estate, the executor, or the beneficiary?

In New York State, the estate is generally responsible for maintaining the property of the estate during the administration or probate process until title to the property is vested in the beneficiary.  The executor or the appointed administrator of the estate has the duty to pay for all expenses related to an asset of an estate during the pendency of probate.  Similarly, it is the estate, and not the beneficiary, that is liable for the personal injuries of any individual, since the estate is vested with the power to manage assets, and pay for any and all items that need fixing.  If you are the executor of an estate, take extra care and make sure that the property is properly insured and adequately maintained.  In the event of a lawsuit against the estate, the executor will have to retain a lawyer to defend the interests of the estate, thereby wasting away assets and reducing the interests that will ultimately be distributed to the beneficiaries.  Commonly, the estate can be reimbursed by the beneficiary for any disbursements that the estate makes for expenses related to the property when the beneficiary takes title to the asset.  An executor should not make any repairs to the property of the estate unless they are absolutely necessary and the beneficiary consents.

There are some exceptions to this rule however.  If someone is residing in the house during the interim, either the executor or the beneficiary, then that person might be solely responsible for the upkeep and the expenses of the estate property.  Surrogate’s court will look at several factors to determine the liability of an individual or entity.  As an executor or beneficiary of an estate, it is always best to consult with a New York Estate Planning Attorney in regards to the expenses of an estate.