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One of the most valuable assets compromising an estate is real estate.  Typically, a decedent may own a home which he occupied with other individuals or which third parties occupied alone.

When the Surrogate’s Courts appoints an Administrator or Executor, the duties of the fiduciary often include securing and selling the real estate.  The real estate may need to be sold to satisfy estate obligations such as a mortgage or credit card bills or other debt obligations.  Also, the property may need to be liquidated to divide up the proceeds among a number of beneficiaries.

There are many situations where the persons residing in the estate property refuse to vacate.  I have represented numerous estates where landlord tenant eviction proceedings were required to evict persons occupying estate property.  Additionally, there are estate litigation proceedings that can be commenced in the Surrogate’s Court to remove persons from estate property.  These proceedings can be ejectment cases or turn-over proceedings pursuant to Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act 2103 entitled “Proceeding by fiduciary to discover property withheld or obtain information”.

After a person dies it is usually necessary to enter the decedent’s residence for various purposes.  To begin with, it may be that the home needs to be searched to see if the person left a Last Will and Testament.  Gaining access to the home may not be difficult if the decedent lived with a spouse or other family member.  However, if the decedent lived alone or voluntary access cannot be obtained, then an application can be made to the Surrogate’s Court for an Order to search the residence for a Will.

There may also be situations where either before or after a fiduciary is appointed, a residence is searched to locate papers and documents relating to the person’s income, assets, debts, business obligations and ordinary bills such as utilities, mortgage, rent or credit cards.

There are a number of important considerations when a residence is searched and the decedent’s personal effects are first reviewed.  If the individual entering the premises is not a duly appointed estate fiduciary he does not have any authorization to remove or otherwise discard any of the decedent’s property.  Additionally, even if the individual has been appointed as Executor or Administrator or Preliminary Executor, extreme care should be taken to inventory and safeguard the contents.

After a person dies it is necessary to determine whether it is necessary to file a Surrogate’s Court proceeding.  Such filing would be in the form of either a Probate Proceeding or an Administration Proceeding.  The Surrogate’s Courts are located in the various counties in New York.  For example, there is the Brooklyn Surrogate’s Court, a Manhattan Surrogate’s Court and a Queens Surrogate’s Court.

An initial inquiry regarding a decedent’s estate concerns whether or not the person was a New York domiciliary.  Domicile is commonly known as the place where a person has a permanent home.  While a person may have a number of different residential addresses, he has only one domicile.

Domicile is important because it typically determines the local law that controls the disposition of an estate.  The New York Courts usually do not accept a case for filing absent a New York domicile or the presence of the decedent’s property in New York.  The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has published a number of articles concerning domicile and estates.

Probating a Will in New York requires strict adherence to statutory and procedural rules.  The primary source of authority is the Estates, Powers and Trusts Law and the Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act.

When a person dies and leaves a Last Will, there are many instances when family members or friends may feel that the provisions in the document do not reflect the decedent’s true desires or intentions.   The immediate reaction is to speculate that the Will is the subject of some impropriety.

However, New York estate lawyers who are involved in estate litigation in the Surrogate’s Court know that contesting a Will requires an analysis of various factors and elements.  The New York Probate Lawyer Blog contains many articles concerning probate law.

When a person dies without a Last Will and Testament he is said to have died intestate.  In these cases there are two statutes in New York that must be referred to for primary consideration.  Estates, Powers and Trusts Law (EPTL) section 4-1.1 entitled “Descent and distribution of a decedent’s estate”, lists the priority of the decedent’s distributees (next of kin) who are entitled to inherit the estate.  As can be expected, a decedent’s spouse and children have the top priority followed by a decedent’s parents and then brothers and sisters.   New York estate lawyers are familiar with the schedule of persons who have inheritance rights.

The other important statute is Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act (SCPA) section 1001 entitled “Order of priority for granting letters of administration”.   This provision lists the persons who have the right to be appointed as the estate administrator.  Again, as expected, a surviving spouse and children receive top priority.  The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has published numerous articles concerning estate administration proceedings and EPTL § 4-1.1 and SCPA §1001.

One of the common issues that arise and result in estate litigation in the Surrogate’s Court is when more than one person wants to act as the Administrator and there is a dispute as to who should be appointed.  This can happen when the decedent is survived by brothers and sisters and there is more than one person who has an equal right to the appointment.   Typically, one of the individuals will file a Petition for Letters of Administration in the Surrogate’s Court and another distributee will file Objections to the appointment and a Cross-Petition for the opposing party to be appointed.  While SCPA §1001 allows the Court to issue letters of administration to more than one person, this may not be possible if the parties do not get along.  Also, the Courts have recognized that the appointment should be given a distributee who has the largest share of the estate or is preferred by a majority of the other distributees.

The appointment of a Guardian in New York requires the commencement of a Guardianship Case in the Court.  It may be difficult at times to determine the appropriate procedures and the proper Court concerning these matters.  There are Guardianships under Article 17-A of the Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act (SCPA)Article 81 of the New York Mental Hygiene Law (MHL) also sets forth a means for the appointment of a Guardian.

A recent Brooklyn Guardianship case decided by Brooklyn  Surrogate Margarita Lopez Torres dated December 5, 2018 entitled Matter of Eli T., provides an excellent explanation of the various statutory frameworks.  As explained by the Court, the Article 17A rules concern Guardianships for people who are deemed to have an intellectual or developmental disability.  The disability must be permanent or indefinite.  In these cases the petition to the Court must include certifications from licensed physicians and psychologists.  The Surrogate pointed out that the Article 17A procedure is not only limited regarding the type of disability that can be considered, the resulting Guardianship results in a complete deprivation of the incapacitated person’s rights.

In contrast, an Article 81 Guardianship, which is filed in the New York State Supreme Court, can involve all different types of disabilities.  Most importantly, this proceeding can mold the terms and restrictions of the appointment to meet the needs and requirements of the incapacitated person.  The Court attempts to provide the least restrictive conditions on the individual so that they can retain some decision making power.  A lot depends upon the person’s ability to handle their activities of daily living.

When a person dies it is necessary to determine the individuals who have a right to inherit the estate assets.  While this may at first seem to be an easy task, the fact is that in many cases the first identification of such persons may be complicated and time consuming.

To begin with, an initial inquiry needs to be made as whether the decedent had a Last Will and Testament.  If so, the Will sets forth the decedent’s estate plan and provides for various named beneficiaries.  It is also important to see if the Will was prepared by a New York Estate Attorney who may have information regarding the identity of the named beneficiaries and the decedent’s next of kin.

In the proceeding to probate a Will all of the decedent’s distributes (next of kin) must be notified.  Also, if there is no Will and the decedent died intestate, the distributees are the persons who are entitled to share the estate assets.

Probating a Will in New can often be an uncomplicated process.  While there are many aspects to a probate case, in most instances the surviving family is cooperative and there is no controversy among the parties involved.

However, New York Estate Lawyers are familiar with situations where there are disputes that lead to estate litigation in the form of Will Contests.  Of course, it is important that when a person creates an estate plan that they take the time and effort to insure that the Will is prepared and executed according to the statutes and procedures.  The primary source of guidance is Estates, Powers and Trusts Law (EPTL) section 3-2.1 which is entitled “Execution and attestation of wills; formal requirements”.

The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has published many articles concerning Will contests and Surrogate’s Court procedures.  The basic grounds for contesting a Will and filing Objections involve improper execution, lack of testamentary capacity and undue influence.  Also, fraud is sometimes alleged and the authenticity or forgery of the document can be asserted.

There are numerous instances where the identity and location of estate assets is a source of New York City Estate litigation in the Surrogate’s Court.   An estate fiduciary such as an Executor has a fiduciary duty to collect and protect estate assets for the benefit of estate beneficiaries.  If the fiduciary fails to carry out his responsibilities he may be found to have breached his fiduciary duty and be personally responsible for the loss to the estate.

When a person dies a search is commenced to collect assets.  The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has discussed this issue in recent and past posts.  The primary source of a remedy to find assets is found in Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act (SCPA) section 2103 which is entitled “Proceeding by fiduciary to discover property withheld or obtain information”.  This statute is very broad in scope and allows an executor or administrator to investigate all circumstances which may lead to the identification and recovery of assets.  While the statute is sometimes seen as allowing what is referred to as a “fishing expedition”, the Surrogate’s Court generally allows a wide opportunity for inquiry.

A recent Brooklyn Estate case entitled Estate of Geraci, decided by Brooklyn Surrogate Margarita Lopez Torres on October 15, 2018, demonstrates the applicability of the statute.  In Geraci, the daughter of a decedent sought authority to investigate actions by her brother whereby real estate that was owned by their mother was deeded to the brother seven months prior to the mother’s death.  This set of facts is very common and involves transfers of assets just before a person dies.  Typically, transfers are made when a decedent is suffering from an illness or disability and it appears that the asset transfer is contrary to the decedent’s dispositions in a Last Will and other expressions of an estate plan.  These cases involve issues of capacity and undue influence.

An executor or administrator of a New York estate has the duty to identify and collect all of the assets belonging to a decedent.  These assets include bank accounts, stocks, bonds, retirement accounts such as IRA’s, and real estate.  Once these items are collected and the estate bills and claims are paid, a distribution can be made to the estate beneficiaries.

It is not uncommon for fiduciaries to become engaged in estate litigation regarding the collection of assets.  Third parties may claim to own items that were obtained from a decedent in wrongful or questionable ways.  For example, someone may be the title owner of a bank account or real estate which was transferred to them shortly before the decedent’s death and at a time when the decedent lacked capacity due to illness or injury.  The estate administrator or executor may try to recover such assets claiming that the decedent lacked capacity and was unduly influenced at the time of the transfer.  The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has published many articles concerning the recovery of assets by an estate.

There are also instances where a third party may claim that the decedent’s estate is holding property that really belongs to the third party.   In these cases the third party owner can commence a proceeding in the Surrogate’s Court under Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act (SCPA) 2105 to recover the items from the estate.   SCPA 2105 is entitled “Proceeding to compel delivery of property by a fiduciary which is claimed by another or others”.

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