A New York Spouse May Inherit Despite Being Separated For Decades

The application of New York inheritance and estate laws and procedure are often seen within the variety of circumstances that effect individual lives. A recent article posted at MSNBC.com on September 22, 2010 talked about the World’s Oldest Man who just celebrated his 114th birthday. The article stated that Walter Breuning lives in a retirement home in Great Falls, Montana and that his wife died in 1957 and that he had no children. Given Mr. Breuning’s longevity, a similarly situated New Yorker without a Last Will might subject his estate to hardship in order locate surviving next of kin, (“distributees”), that would inherit the intestate estate. Kinship proceedings and the application of New York intestate statutes often result in long and costly legal proceedings before estate settlement.

The effect of the lapse of time had an interesting impact on intestate inheritance in a New York case entitled, In Re Morris, 893 NYS 2d 161 (A.D. 2nd Dept. 2010). In Morris, the decedent, Phyllis Morris, had married in 1971 and the couple separated in 1974 but never divorced. When Phyllis died in 2006, her husband petitioned the Court to be appointed as Administrator of her estate. Phyllis’ two daughters objected to his appointment and claimed that the husband was disqualified as surviving spouse under Estates, Powers and Trusts Law Section 5-1.2(a)(5) for abandoning Phyllis and Section 5-1.2 (a)(6) for failing to support her. The Appellate Court upheld the Surrogate’s decision that there was no abandonment since the daughters did not show that the separation was not consensual and that the daughters did not demonstrate an obligation by the husband to support the decedent. Thus, the husband who had been separated from the decedent over 30 years, was still entitled to be appointed as Administrator and was not disqualified as surviving spouse.

Situations such as those involving Mr. Breuning and Mrs. Morris demonstrate how estate laws and Surrogate’s Court procedure can eventually impact a person’s estate and the inheritance rights of beneficiaries following decades of inattention to potential consequences.

New York Probate Attorney Jules M. Haas has helped many clients over the past 30 years resolve issues relating to intestate estates, estate planning, kinship and estate settlement. If you or someone you know has any questions regarding these matters, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 for an initial consultation.

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