All New York Probate and Administration cases require an accurate determination of the decedent's distributees or next of kin. In Brooklyn probate cases, as well as those throughout New York, proper notice of the Probate filing must be given to these persons. In Queens Administration proceedings, like all other such proceedings in New York, not only must distributees be ascertained for purposes of proper notice, their identities must also be established since the distributees are the direct beneficiaries of the estate.
While identifying next of kin may seem routine where a decedent is survived by a spouse or children or grandchildren ("issue"), many person's die without any easily identifiable heirs. In such cases estate settlement requires that kinship be determined.
Kinship searches require extensive examination of birth, death, marriage, naturalization and other records to determine not only the names of possible heirs but also to eliminate the possibility that living or deceased relatives did not have any other children or descendents. This is essentially known as closing out the class. Surrogate's Court kinship cases involve meticulous evidence, much of which can be obtained through the employment of a professional genealogist.
Many kinship proceedings such as Cousin Cases, where the closest next of kin are cousins, involve the Public Administrator which is a government official charged with the responsibility of estate administration of estates where close relatives are not known to exist or no one steps forward to commence Surrogate's Court proceedings.
In many instances the search for heirs results in a sort of dead-end. An heir may be identified but his or her whereabouts is unknown despite a diligent effort to locate him or her. Sometimes, it may be impossible to completely close out the possibility of additional heirs and provide proof that no one else exists as a possible distributee. In these situations, New York Surrogate's Court Procedure Act Section 2225 provides a method by which after 3 years following the decedent's death the law will presume that an identified heir may be presumed deceased without issue and unknown heirs may be presumed not to exist. In order to utilize this Statute, diligent and exhaustive searches must be shown to the Court to have been completed.
I have represented numerous clients in kinship matters. Extensive family research is needed in these cases and all individuals who have had contact with the decedent and have knowledge concerning family relations must be interviewed to determine whether they can be helpful as witnesses for the Court proceedings. Witnesses, as well as genealogists, may need to give testimony. Modern technology is used by the Courts to allow videoconferencing. Thus, testimony by individuals from around the world can be obtained without having to make witnesses travel long distances. This technology provides greater resources to the Courts and the heirs attempting to show their diligent search efforts.
New York Probate attorney Jules Martin Haas and has helped and represented clients in Probate and Administration proceedings for over 30 years. If you or someone you know is in need of assistance regarding a Queens, Manhattan or other New York Estate matter or have any questions regarding such proceedings, please contact me at (212) 355-2575.