The administration of a decedent’s estate is primarily under the authority of the New York Surrogate’s Court. These courts also supervise testamentary trusts and, in many cases, inter vivos trusts, as well. A testamentary trust is a trust that is created by a decedent’s Last Will.
As can be imagined, there are many diverse issues that a decedent’s estate may be involved with. For example, the decedent may have been the owner of a business. There can be issues and disputes concerning the business operations that a rise after death.
Additionally, matters concerning the determination and collection of assets and controversies regarding a decedent’s debts and obligations are all part of the multitude of issues that the Surrogate’s Court can be called upon to determine.
The jurisdiction of the Court to review issues that affect an estate is very broad and sometimes it is surprising that the Surrogate’s Court has authority to rule on a particular controversy. One such area that falls into this category is summary eviction proceedings. In most localities in New York, there are specifically designated Courts in which landlord-tenant matters and evictions are heard. In New York City, each of the counties, such as Queens and Brooklyn, have landlord-tenant parts in the New York City Civil Court.
It is very common that when a person dies owning real estate such property is occupied by third parties. The occupant may be an unrelated tenant or even a family member who was living at the property with the decedent or otherwise with the decedent’s consent. There are many cases where a decedent may have allowed a relative to live in a house for decades. However, after a person dies, if the real estate is titled in the decedent’s name alone, the property may become part of the decedent’s estate and its sale may be necessary to pay estate bills, a mortgage or to distribute the property value amongst numerous estate beneficiaries.
Problems arise when the occupant refuses to vacate the property. The fiduciary, who has the responsibility to manage the property, is then faced with the task of having to evict the occupant so that estate or trust affairs can be taken care of. In these cases the first thought might be to file a petition in the local landlord-tenant Court. However, the Surrogate’s Courts have acknowledged that the eviction proceeding can be commenced in such Court since the matter affects the administration of the estate or trust affairs.
A recent case entitled Matter of Katherine Boyer decided by Surrogate James Pagones (Surrogate’s Court, Dutchess County) on June 7, 2013 and reported in the New York Law Journal on June 14, 2013, addressed this very issue. In Boyer, a property owned by the decedent was transferred under the decedent’s Last Will to the trustees of a testamentary trust. The trustees brought a proceeding in the Surrogate’s Court seeking the eviction of the occupant who was living in the property. The Court found that the property was owned by the trust and also issued a warrant of eviction against the occupant.