Estate Administration in New York involves the determination of the persons who are the estate beneficiaries. The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has discussed in many posts that when a person dies without a Last Will his or her distributees inherit the estate. Where a Last Will has been prepared, the beneficiaries named in the Will are entitled to receive their designated shares of the estate once the Will is admitted to Probate.
An interesting question arises, however, when an estate beneficiary murders the decedent and thereby benefits from the result of a wrongful act. New York Trusts and Estates Lawyers are aware of the decisions by the New York Courts which provide that a person who murders another cannot profit from such wrongdoing and is disqualified from receiving his or her share of the decedent's estate. Recently, the Suffolk County Surrogate's Court was asked to decide a case that involved the above principal of disqualification with an interesting twist. In Estate of Dianne Edwards, decided by Surrogate John M. Czygier on March 28, 2012, and reported in the New York Law Journal on April 13, 2012, the decedent, Dianne Edwards ("Dianne") was murdered by her son-in-law, Brandon. Brandon's wife, Deanna, was the surviving daughter of Dianne, and the sole beneficiary under Dianne's Last Will. Since Deanna was not involved in any wrongdoing, she was not disqualified from receiving her interest under Dianne's Will. However, before the estate funds were distributed, Deanna died intestate and her sole heir and distributee was her husband, Brandon. Therefore, the issue before the Court was whether Brandon forfeited his right to inherit the funds from Dianne's estate that would pass to him through his deceased wife's estate. New York estate attorneys representing Dianne's sister, Donna, claimed that Brandon was disqualified and that Dianne's estate should be paid to Donna as Dianne's sole surviving heir. Essentially, the Court was asked to pass over Deanna's estate interest since such interest was subject to disqualification due to Brandon's wrongful conduct.
The Court decided that Brandon was disqualified to receive the inheritance and that he should not profit from his wrongdoing even if the payment would have been indirectly made through his wife's estate. It is important to recognize from the Court's decision that New York Estate Administration often involves a complex analysis and determination regarding the identity of estate beneficiaries and their respective interests. Previous blog posts have discussed aspects of New York Estate and Trust laws that require proof of kinship or that may result in disqualification due to conduct such as the abandonment of the decedent by a surviving spouse (EPTL § 5-1.2).
Probate Lawyers throughout the state in localities such as Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn assist their clients who are Executors, Administrators and beneficiaries when confronted by these issues. Estate litigation is often required to resolve these disputes as was the case in Dianne Edwards' estate. Since the Surrogate's Courts are the forum where estate proceedings occur, these Courts are very familiar with these issues and attempt to resolve them through settlement or trials.
New York City Trusts and Estates Lawyer Jules Martin Haas, Esq. has been representing clients in Probate and Estate Administration proceedings throughout the past 30 years. I have represented clients in many counties including Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn. If you or someone you know is involved with or has questions about a Last Will or other aspects of Probate or Estate Administration, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 for an initial consultation.