The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has discussed the difference between probate proceedings where a decedent has prepared a Last Will and Administration proceedings where a decedent dies without a Last Will or intestate. Whether or not a person has prepared a Will, it is necessary for purposes of the Surrogate's Court proceedings to determine the decedent's next of kin or "distributees."
Distributees are the decedent's closest surviving relatives who would inherit his or her estate pursuant to the New York laws of intestacy. When a person dies without a Will, it may be easy to determine his or her distributees if there is a surviving spouse or children. However, when a decedent's closest surviving relatives are cousins or more distant relations, the Court will require that proof of kinship be presented. Kinship proof requires a very detailed and verifiable presentation of a decedent's heirship history or family tree on both the maternal and paternal side of the decedent's family. Such proof can include Court testimony from witnesses personally knowledgeable with the decedent and his or her relatives, and the submission to the Court of documents such as death certificates, birth certificates, marriage certificates, obituary notices in newspapers, government census records, cemetery records, probate court records, church and other religious ceremony papers and military records. The types of documentation that may be useful in proving kinship is endless as long it tends to show a connection between the decedent and his or her heirs.
Obtaining the testimony and documents necessary for a kinship hearing in Surrogate's Court may be complicated if the witnesses or papers are located in countries outside of the United States. It is a common practice in these cases to hire the services of a professional genealogist to assist with the determination of a family tree and locating the necessary proof.
I have helped many clients prove kinship in both probate and intestate administration proceedings. An experienced New York Probate Lawyer can help estate beneficiaries protect their interests in estates where kinship must be proved.