Articles Posted in Last Will

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The New York Estates, Powers and Trusts Law (“EPTL”) along with the Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act (“SCPA”) contain the statutory rules and procedures regarding decedent’s estates. EPTL Section 3-2.1 entitled “Execution and Attestation of Wills; formal requirements” has been discussed in previous blog posts. This section sets forth the rules that control the valid signing of a Last Will. The section provides, for example, that the Will must be signed at the end of the document by the testator. It also states that anything that is placed on the document following the signature as well as any matter that is added to the Will preceding the signature but after the Will is signed, shall be invalid.

New York estate lawyers are familiar with the proper preparation and execution of Wills in order to comply with statutory rules. However, there are occasions when documents appear to lack compliance with the statute and require review by the Surrogate’s Court. In Estate of Thomas a Will was filed for probate that contained numerous handwritten alterations to bequests set forth in the paper. In a decision dated January 7, 2014 and reported in the New York Law Journal, Bronx Surrogate Nelida Malave-Gonzalez reviewed the document and the evidence presented to the Court. The evidence included an affidavit from the attorney who prepared the Will which stated that when the Will was signed it did not contain the handwritten changes that were later found on the document. Based upon his proof and other information, the Surrogate found that the handwritten changes did not comply with the requirements of EPTL 3-2.1 and thus were not valid. The Will was admitted to probate and the alterations were ignored and did not change the original provisions of the Will.

In the event an individual wants to change or amend their Will there are two ways to proceed. A Codicil can be prepared which only revises the provisions that are sought to be amended. Instead of a Codicil, the entire Will can be redone in which the only change is the desired modification. Both the Codicil and the new Will need to be executed in accordance with the statutory requirements. The preferred method is to revise and sign a new Will. This tends to eliminate both any confusion and the need to keep track of a number of separately signed papers.

It is always important to have a Will and other documents such as a Health Care Proxy, Power of Attorney and Living Will properly executed. Additionally, in the event a creator wants to amend or change any of the provisions in these papers, it is equally important to do so in a manner that is proper so that the changes can become effective. All testamentary and advance directive papers should be prepared and signed correctly to avoid estate litigation such as Will Contests and to allow easy estate settlement.

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The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has had numerous posts regarding the benefits of estate planning. When a person dies without a Last Will his estate is subject to the laws of intestacy and is distributed to distributees or heirs at law according to statutory priority. When an estate is planned by the drafting and execution of a Last Will, Living Will, Health Care Proxy and Power of Attorney, a person has the opportunity to specifically designate the individuals that he intends to benefit from his estate and who will make decisions regarding his affairs.

In the case of a Will, it is essential to clearly name and identify the intended beneficiaries such as “my son, John Smith” or “my friend, Mary Jones.” It is equally important that a Will and other documents specify contingent beneficiaries and alternative fiduciaries. Since a Will may be signed many years, even decades, before a person dies, these alternative provisions are likely to become the effective directions at the time of death. Therefore, the naming of substitute beneficiaries should not just be an afterthought but must be fully considered and carefully drafted as part of the Will Planning process. Failure to do so may disrupt estate settlement and result in the failure of the testator’s desires being expressed and complied with.

A recent example of the problems caused by not properly providing for contingencies in a Will is demonstrated in the case of Estate of Beatrice Thompson. In a decision dated December 23, 2013 and reported in the New York Law Journal, Richmond County Surrogate Robert Gigante was presented with motions for summary judgment in a construction proceeding. These types of proceedings are commenced when the Court’s assistance is needed to determine the meaning or effect of unclear or ambiguous terms in a Will. It appears that the decedent wife had written a Will that left her entire estate to her husband. However, the husband pre-deceased the decedent and the Will failed to provide for a disposition of the estate in the event of the husband’s death. The Court denied the motions since it found that questions of fact existed regarding the decedent’s disposition of the estate residue in view of the lack of any specific language disposing of the estate property.

Thompson is a good demonstration of the need for New York Will lawyers to assist their clients and provide documents that explicitly identify contingent beneficiaries. It is equally essential that all Trust and Wills have detailed provisions to cover all assets and dispositions. In a recent case the late Charlie’s Angels star, Farrah Fawcett, left all her artwork to her alma mater. As reported by the Associated Press on December 19, 2013 at HollywoodReporter.com, at the time of her death an Andy Warhol portrait was located in her condominium. However, Ms. Fawcett’s companion, film star Ryan O’Neal, claimed that the portrait really belonged to him. After a trial a jury decided in O’Neal’s favor. The lesson to be learned is that specifying items in a Will or Trust that may belong to others can avoid long and costly Court battles.

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The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has discussed in earlier posts that a New York Last Will must comply with statutory requirements. Estates, Powers and Trusts Law (EPTL) Section 3-2.1 entitled “Execution and attestation of wills; formal requirements” provides many of the rules regarding the signing and form of a Will.

For example, the statute provides that all Wills must be in writing and signed at the end of the document. Also, paragraph (a)(1)(B) states that anything that is added above a testator’s signature after a Will is executed is not to be given any effect. Paragraph (a)(4) requires that there shall be at least two (2) witnesses to the Will and paragraph (a)(3) sets forth that the testator must declare to the witnesses that the paper being signed is his Will.

While this statute and the many court cases interpreting the legal requirements of a Will and its execution may seem very formalistic, the underlying rationale is to insure that a testator’s last wishes and intentions are reflected in a paper that has a high probability of validity. The strict requirements surrounding the form and signing of Last Wills protect both the interests of the testator and the beneficiaries named in the document.

The legal requirements, however, do not prevent the many estate litigation controversies that frequently occur. Will contests are fairly common. In many of these contested Will cases, even though the document may appear to have been properly executed with sufficient witnesses, an objectant may claim that the testator did not have the capacity to make a valid Will, or that the testator was unduly influenced or coerced into signing the Will. These matters are typically dealt with in probate proceedings in the New York Surrogate’s Courts. Estate attorneys generally represent the parties involved such as the person petitioning for probate who is usually the named executor and the potential or actual Will objectants.

The formality of a written document that is witnessed by at least two people creates certainty for the disposition of assets of a decedent. An interesting case was recently reported by Eric Frazier in the Charlotte Observer on October 22, 2013. In an article entitled “Son of late developer Henry Faison suing his firm over Will“, it was reported that Henry Faison, a Charlotte, North Carolina real estate developer, had died just before he was to sign a new Will. Mr. Faison’s new estate plan would have left most of his multi-million dollar estate to a charitable foundation instead of to his company. The decedent’s two sons commenced a lawsuit to try and enforce the terms of the new Will which was not signed before Mr. Faison’s demise.

Mr. Faison’s situation is not uncommon. However, despite circumstances that may indicate that Mr. Faison was intending to change his estate plan, since there is no actual signed and witnessed paper to rely on, it can only be speculated as to whether the decedent may have had a last minute change of heart as to the disposition of his estate. It will be interesting to see how the Courts decide this case and whether any validity is given to an unsigned document.

Having a duly executed Will, Living Will, Health Care Proxy and Power of Attorney is important to preserve the creator’s intentions and eliminate any guesswork and, ultimately, estate settlement litigation, that might ensue in the absence of such documents.

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The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has posted many articles concerning the need for thoughtful and specific estate planning. The many documents that can be used for advanced directives and post-death plans include a Living Trust, Health Care Proxy, Last Will, Living Will and Power of Attorney.

The failure of a person to provide any documented directions or intentions can result in the disposition of assets to unintended beneficiaries through intestacy and disputes regarding a person’s care and property management in the case of incapacity. Even when estate planning documents are put into place, Will provisions that are ambiguous or confusing can result in estate litigation in the form of a Will construction proceeding.

In addition, there are many instances where, despite the preparation and execution of planning documents, disgruntled heirs, relatives and other individuals may claim that the decedent had promised or agreed to provide for them notwithstanding the absence of such provisions in a Will or a Trust. An interesting example of such a situation was presented to the Nassau Surrogate’s Court in Will of Irving Lublin , decided on June 26, 2013 and reported in the New York Law Journal on July 22, 2013. In Lublin Nassau Surrogate Edward McCarty III was presented with a Last Will that left the decedent’s entire estate to the decedent’s wife and son. The decedent’s daughter commenced a lawsuit claiming that her grandfather had an oral agreement with the decedent by which the grandfather agreed to transfer the family business to the decedent and the decedent’s wife. In return the decedent allegedly agreed that he would care for the aggrieved daughter and ensure that she received her share of the business. The daughter now claimed that the business was wrongfully transferred to the decedent’s son.

After reviewing the evidence the Court determined that the alleged oral agreement was too vague to be enforceable. The Court also refused to impose a constructive trust due to the lack of specificity regarding the agreement.

Lublin presents an example of a common situation where individuals have an expectation based upon lifetime promises or understandings with a decedent, and end up being disappointed when those expectations are not adequately expressed in valid and enforceable documents. From an estate planning point of view, if the creator of a Trust or Will desires to benefit a person with a bequest or other property disposition, the Trust or Will should contain very specific provisions regarding the proposed transfer. Similarly, it is always best for a person not to state or infer promises that are not intended to be memorialized in an enforceable document. Such pronouncements can only create expectations for individuals who end up being hurt or dissatisfied upon learning that there have been no written provisions made for their benefit. These circumstances invariably lead to litigation in an estate and unnecessary complications for estate administration.

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A New York Estate Planning Lawyer is aware that it is of utmost importance to review a person’s assets when formulating an estate plan. Initially, it may seem that determining the value of assets is a primary concern so that estate taxes can be estimated and planned for and appropriate provisions can be made to afford varying estate shares to beneficiaries.

While estimated estate valuations should be known, it is equally important to obtain detailed information regarding the manner in which various estate assets are owned. For example, the title on a deed should be examined to determine whether the testator’s name actually appears on the deed. Sometimes, a testator will have inherited the property from a parent or another relative or friend under a Last Will. However, the actual transfer of title into the beneficiary’s name may not have been completed by the Executor. Also, title to the property may be held jointly with another person or as a tenant in common with each person having a separate share or interest in the asset.

These ownership interests are important since a Last Will is generally going to control the disposition of assets held in the decedent’s name alone. If the property is held with another as joint tenants with a right of survivorship, upon the death of a joint tenant the asset will automatically become owned in its entirety by the surviving joint tenant. This automatic ownership will occur notwithstanding provisions in a Last Will that attempt to give the same property to a different person.

Controversies created by estate property ownership cause major problems for Estate Settlement and often result in Estate Litigation. A recent example of such litigation appeared in the case Herskovitz v. Steinmetz, decided by Justice Richard F. Brown (Supreme Court, New York County) on May 16, 2013 and reported in the New York Law Journal on May 29, 2013. In Herskovitz, a decedent owned a cooperative apartment along with his wife. However, the cooperative stock certificate simply had both their names on the certificate without indicating whether the married parties intended a joint ownership or tenancy in common. Since the decedent’s Last Will left his residuary estate to his daughters, if the cooperative apartment was owned by the decedent as a tenant in common the decedent’s share would have gone to the daughters under his Last Will. However, a joint tenancy with the wife with a right of survivorship would result in the wife automatically owning the apartment upon the decedent’s death and the daughters receiving no interest in the apartment under the Will.

After reviewing the various evidence, which included joint tenancy language in the decedent’s cooperative Proprietary Lease, the Court found that the cooperative apartment was owned by the decedent and his wife as joint tenants with survivorship rights. It should be noted that the facts of this case involved the ownership of a cooperative apartment by a husband and wife where ownership began before a 1996 amendment to New York Estates, Powers and Trusts Law Section 6-2.2. Under paragraph (c) of the amended law, stock of a cooperative apartment issued to a husband and wife creates a tenancy by the entirety unless expressly declared otherwise. A tenancy by the entirety results in the surviving spouse automatically owning the entire asset upon the death of the other spouse.

Therefore, when planning an estate and preparing for the proper disposition of assets a good starting point is to review the title and official or registered ownership of the assets whether they be a bank account, real estate or securities so that the Last Will, Trust and the entire plan accurately provides for the disposition of estate assets.

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The selection or nomination of an Executor or Trustee is one of the most important decisions made by the creator of a Last Will or Trust. No matter how precise and formulated an Estate Plan may be, the selection of a person as Executor who makes poor decisions or fails to follow the creator’s intentions can destroy the entire plan. As discussed in many posts in the New York Probate Lawyer Blog, when a person dies intestate (i.e., without a will), the provisions of the New York Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act (“SCPA”) Section 1001 determines who will be appointed as the Estate Administrator. Therefore, if a person takes the time and effort to avoid the statutory selection process and to put into writing an estate plan, it is imperative to make careful decisions regarding the selection of fiduciaries.

From a personal preference vantage point, there are no set criteria that a person must meet in order to be nominated as an executor or trustee. However, there are a number of important considerations. To begin with, the nominee should be someone the creator has full confidence in as to honestly and integrity. The creator also should feel assured that the nominee understands the creator’s intentions and desires and will do their best to carry out the creator’s plan in a manner that the creator would do. It is the job of the fiduciary in Estate Settlement to collect estate assets, pay estate bills and expenses and distribute the net estate to the beneficiaries. The Executor has a legal obligation to deal fairly and honestly and not to self-deal or take advantage of estate affairs for his own benefit.

New York Estate Lawyers are also aware that in many instances it is a good idea to discuss the possible appointment with the nominee to make certain that the nominee is agreeable to accepting the appointment when needed. If the potential nominee is reluctant to serve, it is better for the creator to find out now and be afforded the chance to make a different choice before a Will or Trust is finalized.

In most instances the choice of a fiduciary is easy since the selection is a spouse or children and the family situation is harmonious. However, where less cordial family relationships are present or persons other than close relatives are being selected, the choices may become more critical since the possibility of Estate Litigation or other Estate disputes require fiduciaries of good and strong character to protect the creator’s plan from attack. It should be recognized that a fiduciary does not need to be experienced or have any business or financial background. As long as the fiduciary has some common sense and the ability to make clear decisions, the fiduciary can hire professionals such as attorneys, accountants and financial advisors to help with technical advice in Estate Administration. Estate Lawyers in New York are generally experienced and can guide the Executor through the complexities of the Probate Process in Surrogate’s Court and estate settlement.

SCPA Section 707 entitled “Eligibility to receive letters” provides the basic statutory qualifications for appointment as a fiduciary. The statute sets forth a set of legal criteria for appointment. A person will be disqualified to be appointed if the person is an infant, or incompetent or a non-domiciliary alien, a felon or did not possess qualifications due to “substance abuse, dishonesty, improvidence, or want of understanding, [or] is otherwise unfit for the execution of the office.” The statute also provides that the court may reject a person who cannot “read or write the English language”. The selection of a fiduciary such as an Executor or Trustee is an important aspect of Estate Planning and Estate and Trust Administration. I have assisted clients over the years in creating their estate plans and have also represented many fiduciaries in estate and trust matters.

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A Last Will in New York must be created in accordance with the New York statutes. The Estates, Powers and Trusts Law (“EPTL”) contains numerous provisions concerning the fundamental aspects of and requirements for a valid Will. For instance, EPTL 3-1.1 states that anyone over 18 years old having sound mind and memory can dispose of their personal and real property by Will. Probably the most important provisions regarding Wills are contained in EPTL 3-2.1 which is entitled “Execution and attestation of Wills; formal requirements”. The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has discussed this section of the law in previous posts. EPTL 3-2.1 states the numerous requirements that a Will must meet in order for it to be valid. Among the stated items is that the Will must be signed at the end by the testator, and that there must be at least two attesting witnesses. While the statute contains many more execution requirements, a signed writing with witnesses is fundamental to the validity of a Will in New York.

Estate litigation in the Surrogate’s Courts often occurs when there is a dispute as to whether a Will was properly executed. One of the grounds upon which to Contest a Will is lack of due execution. For example, someone objecting to a Will may claim that it was signed by a testator but not validly witnessed because the witnesses did not see the testator sign the Will or the testator did not acknowledge his signature to the witness. Sometimes there are questions as to whether the Will is genuine and if the document was actually signed by the testator. As can be imagined, there are a vast majority of Will Contest Litigations concerning the validity of Wills.

New York law tends to be very strict regarding the enforcement of the statutory requirements. In many instances, a prospective beneficiary may be without recourse where a testator prepares a Last Will to be signed or tells a beneficiary that a Will leaves a certain bequest and, as it turns out, the testator never signs a Will containing these provisions. Despite, the testator’s possible intentions, in New York, the failure to comply with statutory rules typically prevents the Probate of the purported or drafted Will. In this regard it is somewhat easy to understand that the strict nature of the law is to present unsigned, unwitnessed or other defective papers from being given validly where the testator is no longer alive to confirm that the defective documents actually express his final intentions.

Notwithstanding the specific requirements of the New York Probate Law, there are recent instances in other jurisdictions where unsigned documents have been admitted to probate and allowed to determine the disposition of a decedent’s estate. In a recent post by Cameron Stuart on April 6, 2013 in News.com, it was reported that Irvin Rockman, a former Melbourne, Australia Lord Mayor, attempted to sign a new Will but could not do so due to the seriousness of his illness. Although he died a few days later, the Australian court upheld the validity of the unsigned final Will finding from the evidence that it expressed Rockman’s intent.

Closer to home, a New Jersey Appellate Court approved the probate of an unsigned copy of a paper intended as a Will. In the Estate of Richard D. Erlich, 427 N.J. Super.64 (2012), the Court essentially determined that the unsigned paper was sufficiently formal and expressed the decedent’s intent and was therefore valid.

Despite these recent examples, the vast majority of Wills admitted to Probate are properly prepared, signed and witnessed. New York Estate Lawyers typically counsel their clients regarding their Estate Plan and supervise the preparation and execution of the client’s Last Will and other estate plan documents such as Living Trusts and Advance Directives. When the time comes to Probate a Will, a professionally prepared, signed and witnessed Will can make the Probate Petition Process and Surrogate’s Court filing more efficient and expeditious and less prone to a contest by unhappy family members.

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The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has had many posts discussing the importance of a person’s intent as reflected in their Estate Planning and Advance Directive documents.

A primary purpose of preparing and executing a Last Will, Living Trust, Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy or Living Will is to provide a clear expression of the manner in which a person wants his affairs to be handled and to select the Executors, Trustees and Agents who will best carry out such desires. As has been discussed, when a person dies without a Last Will or does not otherwise provide for pre-death management of his affairs, the decisions are typically left in the hands of the Courts and New York Law to determine the rightful beneficiaries and administrators. There are occasions, however, when despite expressing ones directions and intent through language in a Will or Trust, the provisions in a person’s Will or Trust fails to fully provide for the implementation of the specific gifts. For example, a Will may bequeath a sum of money to a certain charity. However, a problem would arise if the charity no longer exists or the purposes of which the charity was formed changed. In such a situation, an Executor or Trustee would be faced with a question as to how to dispose of the assets meant for the charity or a specific charitable purpose.

Fortunately, New York State Laws give the Courts, such as the Surrogate’s Court, the authority to modify the Will or Trust to account for a changed circumstance. In the recent case of Matter of Wheaton Galentine Trust, decided by Manhattan Surrogate Nora Anderson on April 8, 2013 and reported in the New York Law Journal on April 12, 2013, a Trust provided for a distribution to St. Vincent’s Hospital and Medical Center for geriatric purposes. Unfortunately, St. Vincent’s had ceased operating in 2010. Utilizing the traditional concept of Cy Pres as set forth in New York Estates, Powers and Trusts Law Section 8-1.1, the Court found that the creator’s intent was satisfied by allowing the St. Vincent’s distribution to be made instead to two different medical institutions performing geriatric services. Thus, the Court was able to modify the trust terms to carry out the creator’s intent when faced with circumstances that prevented the original disposition from being satisfied.

New York Estate Planning Lawyers assist their clients with documents that express the client’s intentions regarding their personal and financial affairs and the disposition of their assets. In situations involving Estate or Trust Settlement, these expressions of intent can be instrumental to assist a Court in helping to accomplish the client’s goal. When there is no plan in place, such as in the case of an Intestate Estate, a person’s desire to benefit particular members of his family or friends or a charity cannot be fulfilled. Over the many years, I have assisted many clients with their planning goals to create an estate plan and advance directives that fully reflect their intentions and desires.

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Estate litigation in New York can involve many types of issues. One area of dispute often concerns the rights various individuals may have in a decedent’s Estate or Trust. For example, the New York Probate Lawyer Blog has discussed in previous posts issues concerning the determination of a decedent’s next of kin or distributees. Kinship Hearings may be required by a Court to decide these issues which often relate to relatives such as cousins or more distant relatives whose relationship may be difficult to establish.

Persons interested in an estate may sometimes challenge the status of a surviving spouse. Questions may arise as to whether a marriage or divorce occurred, particularly where such proceedings occur in a foreign country and record keeping may be poor and valid proof of marriage and divorce proceedings may be difficult to obtain.

Litigation in estates may also arise where a person is either adopted by a decedent or where the decedent gave a child up for adoption and surrendered his parental rights. New York Estates, Powers and Trusts Law Section 2-1.3(a) provides that adopted children have the same inheritance rights as natural children. The statute, however, allows a person to avoid this result by expressing “a contrary intention”. Thus, a person who prepares a Last Will or Trust can specifically exclude adopted children, or any other child for that matter, since there is no requirement in New York preventing a person from completely disinheriting a child, natural or otherwise.

In a sort of reverse situation where a parent gives up a child for adoption, New York Domestic Relations Law 117(b) provides, generally, that after an adoption is complete the adoptive child loses his rights of inheritance from his birth parents. Thus, except in certain specific instances, the adoptive child no longer will have any statutory inheritance rights with regard to the family of the biological parents. While these rules may appear on their face to be able to be applied without much confusion, the dynamics of family interaction and monetary considerations often create complicated issues for the Surrogate’s Courts to decide.

An interesting example of the interaction of the New York adoptive rights statutes was recently presented in the Estate of John Svenningsen, which was decided by the New York Appellate Division, Second Department on February 6, 2013. and reported in the New York Law Journal on February 8, 2013. In Svenningsen, the decedent (“John”) and his wife “Christine” adopted a child from China about one year before John died. The couple then commenced proceedings to formalize the adoption in Family Court, Westchester County and these proceedings were finalized after John died. John and Christine had other natural children. The documents that were involved in the Court dispute concerned various Trusts and John’s Last Will. The Will was probated after John died and the adopted daughter (“Emily”) was identified in the Probate Petition by Christine as one of John’s children.

More than 7 years after the adoption and six years after the Will was admitted to probate, Christine surrendered her parental rights to Emily who was then adopted by another couple. When Emily’s new parents discovered by searching court records that John’s estate was valued at more than $250 million dollars, they sought an accounting from John’s estate Executors and Trustees. The fiduciaries, however, refused to provide an accounting and claimed that Emily had lost her rights to inherit under John’s Trusts and Estate pursuant to DRL 117 due to her adoption out of John’s family. Both the Surrogate and the Appellate Court found though that Emily’s right to benefit from John’s Estate and Trusts were not lost by her adoption and that the fiduciaries were required to provide her with an accounting of her share of the Estate and Trust funds.

One interesting aspect of this case is that Emily’s new adoptive parents were able to discover the large amount of funds available in John’s estate by researching the Court records. There are many cases in the Surrogate’s Court concerning Probate, Administration and Accounting proceedings where I have located valuable information to benefit a client by searching the Court records.

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The New York Estate Settlement process may require that an Estate Tax Return be filed for a decedent’s estate. Not all estates are required to file returns or pay an estate tax. In New York, the estate value threshold for having to file the return is $1,000,000. The Federal requirement is equivalent to the exclusion amount which for 2013 is a gross value of $5,250,000.

Even in an estate that is required to file a return, no estate tax may be due on account of various deductions such as the marital or charitable deduction or because of debts or liens such as mortgages or other claims. The gross estate value of an estate is comprised of all of the decedent’s assets that are considered under the tax laws to be includable for estate tax purposes. These items include assets that were owned by the decedent in his name alone at death such as bank accounts, brokerage accounts, real estate, etc. The gross estate also includes assets owned by the decedent that were held jointly with a right of survivorship, and other items where there is a named beneficiary such as life insurance, retirement accounts (i.e., IRA’s or 401K’s) and Totten Trusts.

The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has previously discussed that assets owned in a decedent’s own name typically are administered by an Executor or Administrator as part of the administration estate. Property that has named beneficiaries or joint owners is transferred automatically to such beneficiary/joint owner upon the decedent’s death and is not subject to estate administration.

Regardless of the nature of the assets, where an estate is subject to estate tax, the tax must be paid due to the inclusion of such item for tax purposes. The issue that is always presented is what source is responsible for the payment of the estate tax – is it the decedent’s administration estate or is payment the responsibility of the beneficiary or joint owner who received the property. Of course, like many answers in the legal world, the response is “it depends.”

In the first instance, the tax laws generally require that the estate fiduciary (i.e. Executor or Administrator) is responsible for paying the tax.

It is a common practice that a provision in a decedent’s Last Will provides that all of the decedent’s estate taxes be paid from the decedent’s administration estate which is the property owned by the decedent in his own name and passing under the Will. Such a provision would exempt from the payment of the tax any beneficiary of property passing outside of the Will such as insurance or jointly held assets. This result may not be fair to the persons who are beneficiaries under the Will since they are required to pay the estate taxes allocable to the assets passing to the other outside beneficiaries.

In order to avoid an unintended burden of estate taxes being placed on unsuspecting beneficiaries, a New York Estate Attorney will examine a client’s entire portfolio of assets and discuss the tax issues with a client so that estate taxes can be properly allocated.

The basic law in New York is that each asset is to share its allocable portion of estate taxes. These principals are set forth in New York Estates, Powers and Trusts Law Section 2-1.8 entitled “Apportionment of Federal and State Estate or Other Death Taxes; Fiduciary to Collect Taxes from Property Taxed and Transferees Thereof“. Therefore, if there is no specific direction in a Last Will or other instrument that changes this allocation, all of the outside beneficiaries must contribute their allocable share of estate taxes. EPTL Section 2-1.8 even allows the Surrogate to direct such persons to pay their share of the tax.

Estate Administration can be a very complex process. Calculating the amount of estate taxes that may be payable and determining the persons that are ultimately responsible for such payment adds even more responsibility to the job which each Executor and Trustee is required to perform. Since Estate fiduciaries are responsible for the proper payment of estate tax it is important that they obtain guidance from Estate Lawyers and tax professionals so that the interests of the estate and all beneficiaries are protected.

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