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shutterstock_1021207423-300x200A New York decedent may have many different interests in property and assets. Such interests may include real estate such as a residence and financial and bank accounts. These assets are disposed of after death through a number of methods. There may be a Last Will and Testament which, after being admitted to probate, controls the disposition of items held in the decedent’s name alone. Also, assets that are owned jointly or that contain designated beneficiaries are distributed by operation of law to the designee. The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has published many posts talking about asset distribution from an estate.

Another very important right that may flow from a decedent is a right to succeed or take over the tenancy of a decedent’s New York City rent stabilized or rent controlled apartment. This right which is typically afforded to certain family members identified in the rent regulations is important because it preserves the tenancy and rent limitations for the successors. The rent laws and regulations provide very specific guidelines for someone to qualify for this favored treatment.

In addition to family members, the rules allow for so-called non-traditional family members to obtain these rental rights under certain conditions. Where individuals have relationships that in effect amount to financial and family-type interdependence, the law will recognize the need to allow the survivor to take over the apartment tenancy. In these cases, a Court will scrutinize the nature and extent of the relationship to see whether the statutory criteria have been satisfied.

House-Keys-300x200A New York Estate is usually comprised of many different types of assets. There can be bank accounts, brokerage accounts, retirement funds, and business interests in the form of limited liability companies, partnerships and corporations. However, one of the most common and valuable assets of an estate is real estate. There may be commercial properties or residential properties.

The estate fiduciaries, whether an Administrator or Executor, must protect and manage the estate properties. This is part of the fiduciaries’ duties and is necessary for effective estate settlement. In many instances an executor or administrator may be faced with the problem that the real estate is occupied by individuals who refuse to vacate the premises and who do not have a legal right to remain in possession. The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has published earlier articles regarding this estate dilemma. As will be discussed in this blog post, the issue is very common.

When a property owned by the estate is occupied by third parties without any possessory rights, the fiduciary is forced to engage in estate litigation to evict them. Sometimes these eviction cases can be commenced in Landlord-Tenant Court. This is usually the procedure to be used with occupants who have no family or other connection to the decedent. However, when a family member or someone with a close relation to the decedent is improperly refusing to leave the real estate, such as a house, relief may be sought through the procedures in the Surrogate’s Court. As an estate attorney, I have represented many fiduciaries in these types of cases. A recent Manhattan estate case decided by Manhattan Surrogate Nora Anderson on December 19, 2019 entitled Estate of Flender shows how these matters are handled by the Court. In Flender, the decedent’s Last Will directed that the estate real estate be sold. The Will also had a provision that the estate beneficiaries could purchase the real estate if they complied with certain guidelines and timeliness. One of the beneficiaries provided notice that they wanted to buy the estate property where they were presently residing. However, the beneficiary failed to comply with the purchase requirements. As a result, the fiduciary commenced a Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act turnover proceeding to have the beneficiary evicted. The beneficiary argued that the trustees of trusts established under the Will wrongfully refused to make a discretionary payment to the beneficiary that would have provided the financing for the purchase. After a hearing, the Court found that the trustees did not act in bad faith in refusing to distribute trust assets to facilitate the purchase. The Court granted the relief requested in the turnover proceeding and directed the issuance of a warrant of eviction. The beneficiary was allowed 60 days to vacate the estate property.

Probate-300x201The Probate Process in New York involves various statutes and Court rules. A Last Will and Testament is not valid until it is admitted to probate by the Surrogate’s Court. When a petition is filed with the Court for probate, the document contains the names of the decedent’s distributees (next of kin). These individuals have the right to contest the Will. The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has discussed Contested Will proceedings on many occasions.

The contest process usually begins with reference to Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act (SCPA) Section 1404 entitled “Witnesses to be examined; proof required.” Pursuant to this statute the potential Objectants have the right to take the deposition of the attesting witnesses to the Will and the attorney who drafted the Will. SCPA 1404 also allows discovery of documents such as the estate planning file of the attorney draftsperson, papers showing the decedent’s assets and medical and hospital records of the decedent. Once the SCPA 1404 discovery is completed, the distributees can file their Objections to the Will. These Objections are typically based upon alleged lack of due execution of the Will, lack of testamentary capacity and undue influence.

After the filing of Will Contest Objections, both the petitioner and Objectants can engage in discovery. Thus, the petitioner at this stage can take the deposition of the Objectants and obtain documents. This allows the petitioner to determine the evidence that may support the Objections. There are additional statutes in the Civil Practice Law and Rules and the Uniform Court Rules that control the discovery process. The discovery process can take many months and can be complicated. Information from third parties such as doctors, medical care-takers, financial consultants and friends and acquaintances of the decedent can be obtained.

shutterstock_204507106-300x254When an Executor or Administrator is appointed by the Surrogate’s Court, the job of estate settlement begins. One of the first orders of business is identifying and collecting the assets of the estate.

The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has discussed the issue of asset protection and collection on many occasions. One of the primary sources of information in this regard is the financial records maintained by the decedent. Typically, the decedent will receive bank statements, brokerage statements and other correspondence that reflect values and other ownership information. Another excellent place to look for evidence of estate assets is the decedent’s prior income tax returns. These documents may contain the names of banks or other sources of dividend or interest income. The tax returns may show ownership rights in real estate, corporations, limited liability companies or partnerships.

Earlier articles in this Blog have referred to Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act Section 2103 entitled “Proceeding by fiduciary to discover property withheld or obtain information.” This statute provides the Administrator or Executor with a legal procedure to obtain verification from third parties who may be withholding or otherwise refusing to give up information concerning possible assets that were owned by a decedent. SCPA 2103 requires that a petition be filed with the Surrogate’s Court and a hearing be held before the Court to obtain the requested relief. While it may take time and effort to commence estate litigation and prosecute these proceedings, there can be very positive results for an estate if property is located and recovered. As an estate lawyer in New York City, I have been involved in numerous SCPA 2103 cases. The Surrogate’s Courts throughout New York are very familiar with these matters and recognize their importance for the successful settlement of an estate.

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The Surrogate’s Courts in New York appoint estate Executors and Administrators and Trustees. These appointments make the appointee a fiduciary. As a fiduciary, the person has many obligations and duties. Any failure on the part of an appointee may result in a breach of fiduciary duty.

In general, a fiduciary has an obligation to collect and to protect assets, pay various expenses and other obligations such as taxes, and to provide payments to or on behalf of the beneficiaries. At times there may be lawsuits that must be defended or commenced in the course of administrating the assets of the estate or trust.

There is also an obligation to treat beneficiaries fairly and for a fiduciary not to engage in self-dealing or benefit himself from his fiduciary position. Conflicts of interest should always be avoided. A fiduciary is required to provide a full accounting of his transactions to the beneficiaries.

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The distribution of a decedent’s estate is controlled either by a Last Will and Testament or by the laws of intestacy. When there is no Last Will, Estates, Powers and Trusts Law Section 4-1.1 entitled “Descent and distribution of a decedent’s estate” determines the individuals who are entitled to a share of the estate assets. These individuals are the decedent’s next of kin or distributees.

In many intestate estate cases, it is difficult to determine the identity of the distributees. A person’s next of kin may be remote relatives such as cousins. If the family was estranged, the members may have lived in many different states or countries and have had no contact with each other for generations. The Surrogate’s Court and the New York estate laws require that complete kinship information be presented in the form of death certificates, birth records, marriage records and other documentation to demonstrate kinship. New York Estate lawyers help with kinship hearings and estate litigation when heirship is unclear. The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has posted many articles concerning kinship. Call me now if you have a kinship question.

Another aspect of intestacy is the appointment of the estate administrator. If there is a Will, the Court would appoint an executor. When there is no Will, the Court appoints an administrator. Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act (SCPA) Section 1001 entitled “Order of Priority for granting letters of administration” sets forth the persons who have the right to be appointed as the administrator. Essentially, these are the same individuals who have rights as distributees.

shutterstock_94407685-300x200Planning an estate in New York is very important. To begin with, if a person dies intestate (without a Last Will), the estate laws in Estates, Powers and Trusts law (EPTL) section 4-1.1 entitled “Descent and distribution of a decedent’s estate,” determine the heirs that receive the estate assets. Thus, a decedent’s intentions and desires may not be carried out.

Even when a Will is created there may be issues regarding its validity or interpretation. The Surrogate’s Courts are always dealing with estate litigation concerning Will contests. These cases may involve undue influence, lack of due execution and lack of testamentary capacity. The New York Probate Lawyer Blog contains many posts regarding contested estates and estate planning.

When a Will is created, one of the most fundamental considerations is the clear identification of the beneficiaries and the share of the estate they are to receive. Beneficial interests under a Will can be outright or in trust. Also, a designation may be in a specific amount, or a specific item, or in a share or percentage.

When a person dies and leaves a Last Will and Testament, it is necessary to commence a Probate Proceeding to validate the Will. Once the proceeding is complete, the Court admits the document to probate and letters testamentary are issued to the petitioner. The person who files the petition with the Court for probate is typically the individual nominated in the Will.

Probating a Will requires the submission of numerous documents and information including the names of all of the decedent’s distributees (next of kin) and an estimated value of the probate estate. Estate lawyers in New York are familiar with the Surrogate’s Court rules and requirements regarding probate.

Sometimes the full probate can be delayed due to various issues. If an interested person is seeking to Contest the Will then the final determination regarding the validity of the Will may take months or years. The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has published many articles regarding Probate and Will Contests.

Planning a New York estate is an ongoing process. There are always various matters to be considered. Many aspects in a person’s life change over time. The nature and value of assets may fluctuate. Also, the identity of the beneficiaries can vary. There can be new potential beneficiaries such as a new spouse, or children or grandchildren; or a person’s intentions regarding naming fiduciaries may require amending old estate planning papers. Whatever the reason, the start of a New Year is as good a time as any to think about and implement necessary changes.

Each individual has a plan that is unique to his own situation. Documents that should be considered include a Last Will and Testament, Living Will, Health Care Proxy, Power of Attorney and Living Trust.

A recent article written by Jamie P. Hopkins, Esq., appearing at Kiplinger.com on December 3, 2019 entitled “10 Common Estate Planning Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them)”, provides a good summary of areas that should be considered. The first area covered is entitled “Not having a real plan in place.” This topic is particularly important because without any plan, a person cannot control the disposition of his estate. When a person dies without a Will, Estates, Powers and Trusts Law Section 4-1.1 directs how the intestate estate is to be paid out. It is much better to have estate planning papers specifically state which beneficiaries are to receive assets than to leave the decision to New York estate law. The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has posted many articles regarding estate administration and Wills.

Estate planning in New York is an important consideration for all individuals. When a person dies, assets are disposed of according to the laws in New York. If property passes upon death by operation of law then named beneficiaries or joint owners become the owners. Where assets are held in the sole name of the decedent with no beneficiary and there is no Last Will and Testament, the intestate estate is distributable to a decedent’s next of kin. However, the distribution of these same assets owned solely with no beneficiary can be controlled by the terms of a Will. The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has discussed estate planning in many articles.

In the case of a small business owner, particular care and examination must be made as to the consequences of the death of the owner.

To begin with the business owner must assess the nature of the business assets. Is the ownership interest in the form of stock or shares held in a corporation or a membership interest in a limited liability corporation? Perhaps the owner is a partner in a partnership or possibly, there is no actual business entity.

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