As a NY estate lawyer with two decades of experience probating NY estates one of the first questions a new client often asks is what do I do as an executor? My answer is usually the same. In any NY probate, when someone passes away leaving a will, an executor is nominated by the testator within the NY will. When the decedent does not leave a NY will the estate falls into Administration and an Administrator may eventually be appointed to handle the matters of the NY estate by the Surrogate’s Court. In any event, the executor or fiduciary of a NY estate is charged with two main obligations, first he or she must marshal all of the assets of the NY estate. This entails liquidating any and all bank accounts and or selling whatever fixed assets need to be sold such as real estate or shares in any cooperative apartments. The Executor will need to retain the services of an experienced NY estate lawyer to assist in this process. Secondly, the executor of the NY estate is charged with the distribution of the net proceeds of the NY estate to its beneficiaries accordingly.
Oftentimes as a NY estate lawyer I will recommend enlisting a real estate broker and appraiser to ensure the NY estate receives the fair market value for the assets of the NY estate. Occasionally NY real estate will sell for much more than the anticipated value depending on the neighborhood. Additionally, seemingly innocuous items found within the decedent’s personal possessions can prove to be highly valuable as well. Without the right appraiser and/or real estate broker your NY estate could lose hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars in value. Therefore it is never a bad idea to listen to your NY estate lawyer in hiring professionals to inventory and sell any personal and real property of the NY estate. In my personal experience as a NY estate lawyer, I have seen discrepancies in NY real estate rendering the value of a property millions of dollars over and above what the executor originally believed it to be. However without the right real estate broker you may never know.
Estate of Landau
In 2018 Roger Landau, the executor of his mother’s estate was cleaning out the family home in Teaneck, New Jersey with his two brothers. In the basement were boxes filled with semi valuable items including a silverware tea set among pieces of fine china and a small, uninteresting picture with cracked paint. According to the Landaus by their accounts the picture depicting an unconscious woman with two men attempting to revive her was unremarkable. For many years the picture had hung in their dining room without any thought given to its origin. At the direction of their estate lawyer, the executor of the estate, Roger Landau eventually contacted an appraiser to inventory his mother’s personal possessions and sell them at auction for whatever value they could retrieve.
The appraiser who surveyed their mother’s possessions estimated that the items in the Landau Estate would fetch little over $3,000.00 at auction. According to their appraiser the silverware would raise as much as $2,000.00 with the remaining china retrieving $1,000.00 and the sad little painting $200.00. At auction the silverware sold for the $2,000 as expected. However what was not expected was the dull little painting originally believed to be near worthless started getting interest from buyers at auction. The painting was instantly bid up to $5,000.00. In fact within minutes the bidding for the painting became so intense that it was only a matter of moments before the piece was sold for $1.1 million dollars to a buyer from Germany. While neither Ned Landau, the executor for his mother’s estate, or his appraiser had no idea what they were looking at, the buyer from Germany knew exactly what he was looking at. Perhaps in a stroke of irony it turned out the innocuous painting that had hung on the Landau wall in their dining room all those years was actually an original Rembrandt oil painting titled “The Unconscious Patient.” The German buyer was immediately able to resell the painting for $4 million dollars.
After the painting’s sale at auction Landau recalled that his grandfather had purchased the painting from yet another clueless seller during the great depression who was cash strapped. While few NY estates I come across have Rembrandt’s hanging on the walls of the family home I always recommend the executor enlist professionals to inventory, appraise and sell the contents within the NY estate whenever practicable. Although the appraiser for the estate in this instance did not spot the invaluable piece of artwork immediately, he did get the piece to auction where it was eventually sold for more than a million dollars. A NY estate lawyer would argue had it not been for the appraiser the estate would have most likely lost its largest asset and nobody would have been none the wiser.
If you or a loved one are thinking about planning your estate and would like to speak with a New York estate lawyer feel free to call The Law Offices of Jason W. Stern & Associates at (718) 261-2444 for a free consultation. Our New York estate lawyers have 60 years of combined New York estate law experience drafting and probating the wills for families like yours in the counties of Queens, New York, Kings, Bronx, Westchester, Rockland, Nassau, Orange, and Dutchess.