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New York Estates are Controlled by Appropriate State Statutes

The Administration of the estate of a decedent requires the immediate determination as to the State law that controls estate settlement. Usually the domicile of a decedent determines which State laws (i.e., New York or New Jersey) will be applied to many of the issues concerning the estate. The determination of domicile can be a complicated matter that involves a review of which State the decedent considered to be his or her home and the contacts the decedent had with the State such as filing of tax returns or the issuance of a driver’s license.

Determining a decedent’s domicile and the proper State law to be applied can be important since the rules regarding Will execution, spousal rights, kinship, estate litigation and other substantive matters can vary from state to state. In this regard it is generally the rule that a Last Will can only be filed for probate in the State and locality where the decedent was domiciled at the time of death.

It should be noted that domicile may not only determine the proper State law to be applied in estate settlement but that it may be that a person’s domicile might be in a country other than the United States. In such cases, the laws of the country of domicile may need to be utilized to settle an estate.

New York Estate Lawyers are aware of the many issues that may arise where there is uncertainty or a potential conflict concerning the proper law to be used regarding an estate or beneficiary rights.

The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has had recent posts regarding disputes involving celebrity estates such as Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys and the co-creator of the Superman character.

Celebrity estate problems can also arise regarding domicile and residence. With regard to domicile and the selection of appropriate State law, a United States Court of Appeals in California on August 30, 2012 ruled that heirs to the estate of Marilyn Monroe could not inherit rights to her publicity because she was domiciled in New York at the time of her death and such posthumous rights are not recognized by that State. As noted in an article in the Daily Report by Amanda Bronstad on September 5, 2012, the heirs unsuccessfully claimed that Marilyn Monroe was a resident of California.

The estate planning and probate and administration of a New York Estate requires that domicile and residency be reviewed very carefully. Individuals may have homes in many States or even countries. When a person dies, the Surrogate’s Court for Queens Probate, Manhattan Probate, Long Island Probate or Brooklyn Probate, as well as all other State counties, is going to review the decedent’s domicile and residency very carefully even before accepting any papers for filing. As can be seen from the Marilyn Monroe case, very significant rights can be affected by a determination of domicile.

Additionally, domicile can determine whether an estate is subject to State estate taxes. States such as New York impose an estate tax on local residents while other States do not have an estate tax. The cost to an estate for taxes alone is an important reason to investigate and determine a person’s domicile as part of the estate planning process.


New York Trust and Estate Lawyer Jules Martin Haas, Esq. has been representing clients with respect to Estate Planning and other Trust and Estates matters in Nassau and Westchester and throughout New York State for over 30 years. If you or someone you know is involved with or has questions about an Estate or Last Will, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 or email: jules.haas@verizon.net, for an initial consultation.

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