The New York Estate Settlement process begins upon the death of an individual. Clearly, a person’s demise signals what seems to be an end to that person’s affairs and the settlement or winding up of matters and the distribution of estate assets. However, as shown in many posts in the New York Probate Lawyer Blog, a person’s death may initiate and involve events and issues that can continue for years or even decades.
Many aspects of the administration of a New York Estate can seem never-ending. For example, Estate Litigation involving Will Contests can delay the finalization of an estate for many years and involve proceedings in the Surrogate’s Courts. Many other disputes concern the ownership of a decedent’s assets. These controversies can take many different forms. A recent case decided by Kings County Surrogate Margarita Lopez-Torres on May 23, 2013 entitled Matter of Hasan related to the ownership of certain real property. In Hasan, the decedent had been a co-owner of property as a tenant-in-common. Thus, the decedent’s interest in the real estate passed to his heirs at law subject to necessary estate administration rather than to a co-owner as would have occurred if the property was held jointly with rights of survivorship. As discussed in the decision, after the decedent’s death, various deeds were executed transferring the decedent’s interest in the property without proper authority. After much litigation before the Surrogate, the Court declared these deeds null and void.
Other estate asset rights may result in the perpetuation of estate matters. These rights may involve interests in a business, copyrights, trademarks and rights of publicity. As reported by Eriq Gardner in the Hollywood Reporter, Esq., on June 4, 2013, the heirs of the late film star Lon Chaney, Jr. commenced a lawsuit against Universal Studios. The lawsuit seeks damages for the improper exploitation of Mr. Chaney’s likeness. The film star died in 1973 and was famous for his role in many horror movies of the 1930’s and 1940’s such as the Wolf Man.
In another recent lawsuit, the Andy Warhol Foundation had claimed that artwork from a Warhol album cover from 1967 was protected by copyright and trademark laws and was being improperly exploited. As reported by Eriq Gardner in the Hollywood Reporter, Esq., on May 29, 2013, the parties had recently settled this Federal lawsuit.
As can be seen from the cases discussed and many other posts in this Blog, the settlement of a person’s affairs can be many times more complicated after they die than when they were alive. New York Estate Planning may be very helpful in avoiding some of the most complicated post-death issues. It is imperative that a full exploration and understanding of a person’s assets takes place when preparing an estate plan. Appropriate steps can then be implemented to provide for proper administration of property rights after death and to cure any defects or clarify any documents such as deeds, or copyright and trademark filings, so that disputes can be avoided.