New York Executors Should Protect A Decedent’s Real Estate Interests

A New York Executor and Administrator each have many fiduciary obligations. Earlier posts in this blog have discussed the need for estate representation to identify and collect the assets of an estate.

Estate Lawyers in New York are often asked by clients to provide guidance regarding real estate interests that are owned by a decedent.  Many times the value of the real property that is involved constitutes the largest asset of an estate.  Such property can take many different forms.  The decedent may have owned a single family home or may be the owner of a multiple unit property which contains residential tenants that were paying rent.  There are also situations where commercial property was owned as part of a decedent’s business and is included among his assets.

In all of the above instances, it is important to closely examine the deeds and other ownership papers to discover the exact nature of the decedent’s interest. The property may be owned as a joint tenant, as a tenant in common or through a business entity such as a limited liability corporation or an ordinary small business corporation or partnership. For purposes of estate settlement, the decedent’s interests will guide the executors as to the manner in which to proceed to protect the real estate and facilitate its proper distribution to estate beneficiaries.

It is not always simple to determine a person’s property ownership interests. Unfortunately, deeds and title transfers and other papers may create ambiguities as to an estate’s ownership claims. However, executors and administrators have a fiduciary duty to discover the estate assets and safeguard them.

A recent case decided by Staten Island Surrogate Robert Gigante on July 21, 2015 entitled Estate of LaForgia demonstrates the problems that an estate fiduciary may face during estate settlement regarding real estate. In LaForgia the executors of an estate commenced a lawsuit in New York Supreme Court that was transferred to the Surrogate’s Court. In the lawsuit, the executors claimed that a parcel real estate was owned by the decedent even though the deed title was in the name of an entity that was controlled by two other individuals. The executors alleged that the decedent’s funds were used to purchase the property and that he was misled by the two defendants into believing that he (the decedent) would be the property owner. Instead, it appears that due to the misrepresentations and fraudulent conduct of the two defendants, title to the property was put into an entity that they controlled to the exclusion of the decedent.
In LaForgia, the Court denied a motion by the defendants to dismiss the executors’ complaint.

I have represented many estate executors and administrators regarding real estate interests held by an estate. This representation has included the sale and closing of title to property and clarification of title issues. Sometimes, estate litigation is needed to ensure that the estate’s interests are protected. An experienced estate and real estate lawyer can facilitate the proceedings to resolve what can be complex issues of ownership.

New York Trusts and Estates Attorney Jules Martin Haas has helped many clients over the past 30 years resolve issues relating to probate and estate settlement throughout New York City including Manhattan and Brooklyn. 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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