New York Estate Beneficiaries May Be Disqualified from Receiving an Inheritance

Beneficiaries of an Estate in New York may be determined in a number of different ways.  The most recognizable method of beneficiary designation is the naming of an individual or institution to receive a benefit in a Last Will.  There are many different types of dispositions that can be made in a Will such as leaving a specific item or property to a beneficiary or by just setting forth that the beneficiary is to receive a certain share or percentage of an estate.

Another method of beneficiary selection is where a decedent does not prepare a Last Will. When a person dies intestate his estate is distributed to his distributees (i.e. heirs at law). The persons who qualify as distributees are determined by the New York Estate laws. Estate Lawyers in New York are familiar with Estates, Powers and Trusts Law (EPTL) Section 4-1.1 which provides the priority of the individuals entitled to share in the intestate estate. EPTL 4-1.1 is entitled “Descent and distribution of a decedent’s estate”. This statute has been discussed in many prior articles in the New York Probate Lawyer Blog.Even though persons may have certain rights under the estate laws to receive a share of a decedent’s estate, there are a number of statutory provisions that can result in such share being forfeited. For example, EPTL Section 4-1.4 is entitled “Disqualification of parent to take intestate share”. Pursuant to this statute, a parent who otherwise would be given a share of a decedent’s estate as a distributee may forfeit such right. Among the provisions of 4-1.4 is paragraph (a)(1) which states that in the event a child was under the age of 21 years the parent would lose inheritance rights if the parent abandoned or failed to provide for the child. In a recent case decided by Bronx Surrogate Nelida Malave Gonzalez on February 23, 2016 entitled Estate of Dally, the Court found that a parent forfeited his inheritance rights. In Dally, the decedent died at the age of 17 years and the child’s father, as a distributee, claimed a share of the proceeds from a lawsuit concerning the negligent conduct resulting in the child’s death. The Court found that the father had abandoned the child and had not been involved in the child’s life in any substantive manner. Thus, the Court disqualified the father from receiving any portion of the settlement proceeds.

Another section of the EPTL concerns the disqualification of a surviving spouse. EPTL Section 5-1.2 is entitled “Disqualification as surviving spouse”. This statute provides for situations where a husband or wife can lose their inheritance rights. Included in this section is a direction that rights can be forfeited where a spouse abandons the other. EPTL Section 5-1.2(a)(5). Paragraph (6) of this Section states that rights can be lost if one spouse does not support the other.

I have represented individuals in Surrogate’s Court cases where the issue of inheritance rights is the subject of estate litigation. These matters can be very complicated and the determination as to whether inheritance rights have been forfeited is not always easy to determine. If you have any questions regarding estate litigation or inheritance rights, call me now for a free discussion regarding your issue.

New York Trusts and Estates Attorney Jules Martin Haas has helped many clients over the past 30 years resolve issues relating to probate,  estate settlement and real estate cases 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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