A New York estate proceeding in the Surrogate's Court requires the participation of all interested parties. First and foremost, a decedent's distributees (next of kin) must be identified so that proper notice, usually in the form of a Citation or Notice, can be sent to the parties at their current address. A due diligence search must be made to determine both the identity and address of all distributees. Both Probate and Intestate Administration proceedings require that these parties be included in the case. Failure to properly include necessary parties in Estate proceedings, particularly where estate litigation is involved, can create a defect whereby the Court's final determination may be subject to being found void.
The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has previously discussed issues involved where a decedent-father had children but was not married to the child's mother at the time the child was born. These non-marital children - distributees - usually face an uphill battle to show that they are, in fact, children of the decedent, and that they are entitled to a share of the decedent's estate or other rights they are given as distributees in the Court process.
New York Estates, Powers and Trusts Law Section 4-1.2 entitled "Inheritance by non-marital children", sets forth the grounds and manner by which a non-marital child can demonstrate his or her relationship. The statute provides that a non-marital child "is the legitimate child of his mother." However, with respect to his father, unless there is some Court Order or official determination of paternity, the most common avenue to prove kinship is to follow the statutory direction and provide "clear and convincing evidence" that "the father openly and notoriously acknowledged the child as his own." The statute also provides for proof by "genetic marker testing."
I have represented individuals who sought to inherit an estate where it was necessary to present evidence to the Court that satisfied EPTL 4-1.2. A hearing is commonly held by the Surrogate or a Court referee and documents and witnesses are presented to satisfy the legal requirements of open and notorious acknowledgement.
In a recent case decided by Westchester Surrogate Anthony A Scarpino on January 19, 2012 and reported in the New York Law Journal on January 27, 2012 entitled, Matter of the Estate of Michael Konstantin, issues regarding proper notice of Surrogate's Court proceedings and proof of kinship of a non-marital child converged. In Konstantine, a proceeding was commenced by a non-marital child to vacate the probate of the decedent's Last Will and the distribution of millions of dollars of wrongful death proceeds on the ground that the non-marital child was not included as a party to the prior proceedings and was entitled to receive a share of the proceeds. Based upon the evidence presented to the Court, the Surrogate found that the child presented some evidence that "the decedent openly and notoriously acknowledged the non-marital child as his own" and also showed that genetic marker testing was a proper method of discovery. Therefore, the Court directed that the decedent's other children submit to genetic marker testing which has a high probability of showing whether the non-marital child had a common father.
Surrogate's Court cases require the assistance of experienced estate attorneys who are familiar with the rules and procedures of estate settlement to protect the interest of the parties interested in a decedent's estate.