New York Surrogate’s Courts Have Jurisdiction Over Many Different Issues Related to a Decedent’s Estate

The Surrogate’s Courts in New York are familiar to most persons as the Court where Wills can be probated and Executors and Administrators appointed to handle estate affairs. While it is accurate that the primary issues presented to the Court are the appointment of estate fiduciaries, there are a plethora of issues that are involved in estate administration that require Court intervention.

A New York City Estate Lawyer is familiar with the many provisions in the Estates, Powers and Trusts Law and the Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act that provide for accessibility to the Surrogate to determine issues regarding estate affairs. For example, SCPA 2103 is entitled “Proceeding by fiduciary to discover property withheld or obtain information”. This provision allows a fiduciary to commence a Court proceeding against a third party to recover the decedent’s property that is being withheld from the estate.  SCPA 2105 allows a proceeding to be filed to compel a fiduciary to deliver property that is claimed by a third party.There are potentially many other types of disputes and litigation that can relate to a decedent. Sometimes, the decedent had been involved in or owned an interest in a business such as a corporation or limited liability company. If there is a dispute that involves or may affect the decedent’s interest in these entities, the Surrogate’s Court may be able to determine these issues even though another Court, such as the Civil Court or Supreme Court, would seem to be the more common place to litigate these problems.  The Surrogate’s Courts are very willing to entertain cases that relate to a decedent’s estate even though the issues may not relate directly to the probate of a Will or the appointment of an Administrator.

A good example of the Court’s willingness to decide issues that concern an estate is reflected in a recent case entitled  Matter of Carpenter, decided by Manhattan Surrogate Rita Mella on January 8, 2015.  In Carpenter a testamentary trust of a decedent was the owner of an interest in a certain lease.  As discussed by the Court, the lessee had failed to pay rent and abide by the conditions of the lease.  As a result, the trustee, who was appointed by the Court, commenced a proceeding in the Surrogate’s Court to collect the rent and to evict the lessee.  In response to the filing, the lessee asked the Court to dismiss the case and claimed, among other things, that the Court did not have jurisdiction and that the Civil Court was the usual court to determine landlord-tenant issues.   Surrogate Mella refused to dismiss the Trustee’s proceeding and noted that the Surrogate’s Court had jurisdiction to consider the eviction issue since the testamentary trust’s claims related to the affairs of the decedent.

I have represented clients in many types of proceedings in the Surrogate’s Court that related to a decedent’s estate. The recovery of estate property and the determination of rights regarding a decedent’s interests are a very significant aspect of estate settlement.

New York Trust and Estate attorney Jules Martin Haas, Esq. has been representing clients in Surrogate’s Court and estate administration in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn throughout the past 30 years.  If you or someone you know is involved with or has questions about Estate Settlement, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 for an initial consultation.

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