Understanding Estate Property Ownership is Important to Resolve Estate Litigation

A New York Estate Planning attorney is familiar with the numerous issues that need to be reviewed when creating estate planning documents. Such documents include Last Wills and Living Trusts.

As pointed out in the New York Probate Lawyer Blog, a fundamental aspect in the planning process is understanding the property owned by a person and the manner in which such asset is held. For example, real estate interests can be owned by someone in their individual name or in their name as a joint tenant with another person or as a tenant in common with others. When a person dies, an asset that is owned jointly or with a designated beneficiary passes to the joint owner or designee outside of the decedent’s estate. Thus, such property would not be subject to the terms of a Last Will or the laws of intestacy.Due to the significance of these legal principals the estate plan needs to take into account the method by which a person’s property will be passed on to others at death in order to avoid post-death confusion and conflicting results. Very often, the results of post-death property distribution that are controlled by estate administration laws and by the operation of law rules creates results that are not intended or anticipated by a decedent.

As a New York estate lawyer, I encourage clients to provide detailed information regarding asset ownership so that the planning of an estate and estate settlement can be accomplished in an efficient and effective manner.

An interesting example of the conflict and confusion resulting from the various property distribution rules was recently discussed in a case decided by Manhattan Surrogate Rita Mella on October 14, 2015 entitled Estate of Harold Fleisher. In this case, the decedent died without a Last Will (intestate). His only heir at law (distributee) was his brother. Thus, any assets that the decedent owned in his individual name were to be distributed to the brother.

However, at death the decedent also owned certain real estate as a joint tenant with a Ms. East.  Due to the joint tenancy, the full ownership of this property passed by operation of law to Ms. East upon the decedent’s death.  As it turned out, the joint real estate was encumbered by a number of Home Equity Lines of Credit.  Due to the outstanding loans, Ms. East filed a claim against the decedent’s administration estate and claimed that the loans were the decedent’s personal obligation and should be paid by the brother as administrator of the estate.

The Court reviewed the applicable law including the guidelines of Estates, Powers and Trusts Law 3-3.6(a) which statute provides that a personal representative is not responsible for encumbrances on property that passes by a specific devise or by intestate descent. Based upon this view the Court dismissed the claim and found that the obligation regarding the encumbrance on the joint property passed with the property to surviving joint owner. In effect, the mortgage obligation went along with the realty to the surviving owner.

East is an interesting case because it reflects the need to try and examine all possible areas of conflict and confusion when preparing an estate plan and administering an estate. Due to the inconsistency in property disposition that results from the numerous property transfer rules, the guidance of an experienced estate and real estate lawyer can be essential. If you have any questions regarding estate distribution or estate litigation, please call me now for a free review.

New York City Estate attorney Jules Martin Haas, Esq. has been representing clients in Probate and Estate Administration proceedings in Manhattan and Queens Counties throughout the past 30 years. If you or someone you know is involved with or has questions about a Last Will or other aspects of Probate or Estate Administration, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 for an initial consultation.

Jules Martin Haas provides his clients and members of the community with a free monthly e-newsletter which contains articles covering a variety of legal topics including estate planning, financial matters and real estate. If you wish to be placed on the e-newslist, simply e-mail me at jules.haas@verizon.net. You can cancel receiving the newsletter at anytime.


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