The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has discussed different areas concerning estates of decedents such as Last Wills, Kinship, Probate and Administration, as well as Article 81 Guardianships. In many instances there is a combination of issues and problems that estate beneficiaries and fiduciaries face before estate settlement can be finalized. A recent case entitled Estate of Veronica Tesler, decided by Kings County Surrogate, Diana A. Johnson on January 11, 2012 and reported in the New York Law Journal on February 6, 2012, provides a typical example of estate administration that faced many problems.
In Tesler, the decedent, Veronica Tesler, had been determined to be incapacitated prior to her death. As such, the Court had appointed Guardians for her person and property. Also, prior to her death, Veronica had signed a Last Will in which she left her estate to her nephew and appointed him executor.
While Veronica's preparation of a Last Will was sound estate planning, the nephew predeceased Veronica. Apparently, Veronica did not provide for any alternate disposition of her property. The result was that she effectively died intestate (i.e. without a Will), because there was no provision in her Will for an alternate beneficiary. Tesler demonstrates that it is always best to provide for alternate beneficiaries in a Last Will as well as alternate Executors. The Brookyn Probate of Veronica's Will was thwarted by this apparent oversight.
Since Veronica died intestate her estate beneficiaries needed to be determined by the intestacy statutes of New York. Here, Veronica's maternal cousins filed a petition with the Court to obtain Letters of Administration. However, since the maternal cousins could not provide information regarding Veronica's paternal next of kin ("distributees"), the Court appointed the Public Administrator to handle the estate affairs. The Public Administrator is a public official whose function is to administer estates in various circumstances such as where no family member or no family member of close enough kinship in the case of intestacy is available.
After the Public Administrator completed the administration of Veronica's estate such as collecting assets and paying bills and debts, the Public Administrator filed an accounting with the Surrogate's Court. It was at this time that the maternal cousins were required to demonstrate at a Kinship Hearing that they were Veronica's sole distributees and entitled to receive her entire estate.
Kinship cousin cases can be very complex and require proof in the form of documents such as birth records, death records, marriage certificates, obituaries, census reports and also witness testimony to show which persons actually are the decedent's sole surviving next of kin. I have represented clients in these proceedings. The use of professional geneologists and investigators is also essential in proving kinship.
In Tesler, the decedent's maternal cousins were finally able to establish to the satisfaction of the Court that they were the decedent's sole surviving heirs. The case shows how despite preparing a simple Will, very complicated estate administration proceedings may be needed to settle an estate. Advice from an experienced New York Estate attorney is essential both to prepare an estate plan that can avoid complicated litigation and to help family members succeed in protecting their inheritance rights.
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.