Articles Posted in Estate Litigation

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The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has discussed in earlier posts the variety of issues concerning the transfer of a decedent’s assets. One of the most common and valuable estate assets is the decedent’s home. A person’s home can be in the nature of real property such as a single family home. However, New Yorkers are very familiar with living in the setting of an apartment in a high-rise building. Apartments can be as valuable and the subject of controversy as separate residential realty. A decedent may have been living in a cooperative apartment or even in a residential building where he was the tenant in a rent-stabilized or rent-controlled unit. These different forms of property rights can present unique problems to be resolved during estate settlement.

In the case of a cooperative apartment, the decedent’s interests may have been bequeathed in a Last Will to family members or may need to be sold to a third party purchaser.  In each instance, the general rule in a cooperative building is that a transfer of the Unit cannot occur without approval of the cooperative board of directors.  In many cases, such approval is not  easily obtained since the cooperative board is given broad discretion to approve or disapprove of the transfer. Continue reading →

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A New York estate lawyer is familiar with the numerous problems that can arise regarding the administration of a decedent’s estate. Sometimes these matters are the result of actions or relationships that the decedent was involved with prior to death. The estate executor or administrator has a fiduciary obligation to resolve these disputes. Assets of the decedent must be protected and creditors claims must be satisfied or disposed of.

A recent post at hollywoodreporter.com on February 9, 2015 by Austin Siegemund-Braka reports about another chapter in the settlement of the estate of the late pop star Michael Jackson. The post, entitled “Hollywood Docket: Michael Jackson’s Ex-Manager Revives Neverland Ranch Dispute”, relates the details regarding a claim by the pop-star’s manager for unpaid commissions earned during Michael Jackson’s lifetime as well as a claim for a fee for securing a loan on Michael Jackson’s Neverland property to prevent its foreclosure. The estate executors opposed the claims and both parties had filed lawsuits in 2012 that were put on hold pending other related proceedings. The Court has now lifted the stay to allow the issue regarding the Neverland loan to move forward. Continue reading →

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It is very common that a person who dies or is incapacitated receives health care and services that are paid for by government agencies in the form of Medicaid. As New York estate lawyers often encounter, a decedent who had been ill and unable to pay for his care through private insurance or personal funds probably would have had his care paid through Medicaid. Medicaid payments can cover persons who live at home or who reside in nursing homes or other facilities. Particularly where a person has had a serious illness with extensive hospitalization and nursing home stays, the expenses that are paid by Medicaid can be quite large. Under various state laws and rules, Medicaid is entitled to be reimbursed for its expenditures. This reimbursement typically occurs after a person dies if there are assets in his estate. It may be that the decedent passed away owning a home or other assets but had been receiving Medicaid coverage during his life.

It is the fiduciary obligation of an Executor or Administrator to make sure that all of the decedent’s debts and the claims against the estate are satisfied. Thus, the estate fiduciary is required to satisfy a claim for reimbursement that is asserted by the local Medicaid authority. Also, in the event the estate Executor or Administrator is aware that the decedent may have been receiving medicaid benefits, it is important to obtain information regarding this claim before distributing estate assets. Once the assets are distributed to beneficiaries, the Medicaid authority may attempt to obtain payment of the claim against the fiduciary personally and assert that the fiduciary should have known about the claim before he paid the beneficiaries. Estate settlement can be a very complicated process and the collection of assets and payment of a decedent’s debts often require the guidance of an experienced estate attorney. Continue reading →

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New York Estate Planning can involve many different aspects. In most instances, individuals assume that the need to consult an estate planning attorney only arises when a person has significant assets that may result in the imposition of Federal estate taxes or state estate taxes. In fact, even when there is no potential for taxes being imposed at death, the preparation of a Last Will is really a form of estate planning by avoiding the uncertainty of intestate administration.

When tax planning is or may be important, one of the more common planning methods is to use life insurance as a planning device. Life insurance can provide a means by which an estate can increase liquidity and provide funds to pay estate taxes and monetary bequests. A common use of insurance is to create an insurance trust that will own the insurance policy.  The trust will be separate from the decedent’s taxable estate and, therefore, not increase the taxes payable. Continue reading →

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When a person dies without a Last Will he is considered to have died intestate. Queens estate attorneys, like those in other counties, are familiar with the procedure to have an Administrator appointed to settle the estate. The Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act (SCPA) and the Estates, Powers and Trusts Law (EPTL) provide the statutory rules and procedures for the appointment of a fiduciary. Typically, anyone who is interested in the estate settlement can petition the Court for the appointment of an administrator. However, the statutes provide an order of priority for the persons who can actually be appointed.

The procedures of the Surrogate’s Court can be very complex and confusing to family members who are faced with having to handle issues relating to a decedent. It is usually a good practice to obtain the guidance of a New York Administration attorney to assist with these matters. A recent case decided by Staten Island Surrogate Robert Gigante  on December 2, 2014 illustrates the problems that can arise when a person does not obtain the help of an estate lawyer. In Matter of Dinger, a grandson of the decedent petitioned the Court to have himself appointed as estate administrator. This petition was opposed by a daughter of the decedent. The grandson claimed that the decedent owned a cooperative apartment. However, the daughter asserted that she owned the apartment with her mother as joint tenants with rights of survivorship.  Such ownership would have kept the cooperative apartment out of the administration estate since it would have passed automatically by operation of law to the daughter.   Continue reading →

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A common issue that is found in many contested Guardianship cases and Estate matters is whether a person’s beneficiary designations or asset plan has been the subject of undue influence.    New York  City Estate Lawyers, like those throughout the state, are accustomed to having clients claim that the only reason the client was not named as a decedent’s beneficiary was because the individuals who did receive assets improperly influenced the decedent’s decisions. Undue influence is not an easy concept to prove or even to completely understand. Courts have recognized that undue influence is not easily determined.  Also, wrongful acts by one party over another are typically not as clear-cut as one person threatening the other.  The improper conduct is usually more subtle and subversive and may occur over an extended period of time.   In most cases the issue as to whether a person’s testamentary plan is the result of undue influence or improper conduct is a question of fact to be determined at a trial. Continue reading →

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Litigation concerning estate matters has been discussed in many posts in the New York Probate Lawyer Blog. The variety of Surrogate’s Court disputes sometimes appears endless. These matters include contested probate proceedings, as well as proceedings to discover and recover a decedent’s property from third parties who have wrongfully taken such property. Also, proceedings to remove an Executor or Administrator because of a breach of fiduciary duty are not uncommon.

Recently, a number of stories have been written concerning estate disputes that involve well-known individuals. These articles present good examples of the problems presented when an estate is in turmoil.  A post appearing in the hollywoodreporter.com on November 17, 2014 by Eriq Gardner is entitled “Court: Sherman Hemsley Won’t Be Dug Out From Grave.” As reported, Sherman Hemsley was a famous actor appearing in sitcoms as the character George Jefferson. Shortly before his death in July 2012, Mr. Hemsley signed a new Will in which he left his estate to his business manager/best friend. Although the Will was contested by Mr. Hemsley’s brother, the probate court found the Will to be valid. In the appeal, which the brother also lost, he asserted that Mr. Hemsley should have been buried in a different location and that the business manager should not have made this decision. The appeals court declined to order that Mr. Hemsley’s body be removed and found that the brother’s rights to decide where to bury Mr. Hemsley were extinguished. Continue reading →

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New York estate litigation may involve many different types of issues. An estate fiduciary such as an executor or administrator may discover and obtain possession of the decedent’s property by commencing proceedings under Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act (SCPA) Section 2103.

However, as New York Probate Lawyers know, one of the most common areas of Surrogate’s Court disputes involves contesting a Will. The basic requirements for a Will execution are found in Estates, Powers and Trusts Law (EPTL) Section 3-2.1 which is entitled “Execution and attestation of Wills; formal requirements”. As discussed in earlier posts in this Blog, such requirements include that the testator sign in the presence of the attesting witnesses or that he acknowledges his signature. Continue reading →

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The New York Probate Blog contains numerous articles discussing the differences between Surrogate’s Court probate proceedings and administration proceedings.  When a decedent leaves a Last Will, the process is to probate the Will and then to distribute the estate assets according to the Will provisions. The appointed Executor will receive Letters Testamentary from the Court.   If a person dies intestate (without a Will), the next of kin or distributees need to file a petition to obtain Letters of Administration.  New York Estate Litigation Lawyers are aware that there can be many complications and controversies in Administration cases.

A recent decision by Suffolk County Surrogate John Czygier decided on September 16, 2014 and entitled Estate of Lambert, provides an example of many of the potential problems.  In Lambert the decedent died as the result of a vehicular accident.  He was survived by eight children all of whom were non-marital.   Continue reading →

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The settlement of a New York estate involves dealing with many different estate assets.  These assets may include bank accounts, stocks and bonds and retirement funds.  In many instances the most valuable item comprising a decedent’s estate is real property.  Such property may be in the nature of the decedent’s residence or investment or commercial real estate.

It is not uncommon that when a person dies their home had been owned by them for many years or even decades. Very often the decedent lived in their home with other family members such as a spouse or children or other relatives like nieces and nephews. Problems tend to arise where the decedent was not survived by a spouse and other family members had been living with the decedent in the home. Typically, the real property residence is either given in a Last Will to persons other than, or in addition to, those who had been living there with the testator. When there is no Last Will and a person dies intestate, the interest in the real estate may pass to a group of individuals who are the decedent’s next of kin or distributees.  Such persons may or may not include the residents of the property. Continue reading →

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