One of the most important aspects when administering an estate is establishing the identity of a decedent’s next of kin. The persons comprising next of kin or heirs are commonly referred to in New York as “distributees”. Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act (SCPA) Section 103(14) defines a distributee as a person who would be entitled to receive part of a decedent’s property pursuant to the statutes regarding “descent and distribution”.
The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has published numerous posts regarding kinship. In a probate proceeding, distributees of a decedent must be ascertained and provided notice regarding the probate of the Last Will. This is because the distributees must be given the opportunity to Contest the Will.
When a person dies without a Last Will he is considered to have died intestate. In these cases, the decedent’s assets are distributed to distributees that are determined pursuant to Estates, Powers and Trusts Law (EPTL) Section 4-1.1 which is entitled “Descent and distribution of a decedent’s estate”. This statute sets forth the priority of persons who receive a share of the intestate estate.
When a person dies without a Will, the statutes also provide which persons are entitled to be appointed as the Estate Administrator. SCPA 1001 entitled “Order of priority for granting letters of administration” gives the priority list of persons to be appointed. The order of priority begins with a surviving spouse, then children and continues through various levels of kinship.
There are situations when there does not appear to be a distributee available or one with a close enough or clear enough relation to the decedent for appointment as administrator. In these matters the Court usually appoints the local Public Administrator to handle estate affairs. A recent case decided by Manhattan Surrogate Rita Mella on September 21, 2017, entitled Matter of Butler, is a typical example of a Public Administrator case. In Butler the Manhattan Public Administrator was appointed to administer the estate and had filed an accounting proceeding in the Manhattan Surrogate’s Court. The Court held a kinship hearing to determine the identity of the decedent’s distributees. After reviewing all of the facts as well as reports prepared by a guardian ad litem, the Court found that the estate assets should be distributed in six equal shares comprising the decedent’s siblings and nephews.
The determination of kinship can be very complex and may require the services of genealogists and the compilation of birth, death and marriage records. I have represented many individuals in connection with Kinship matters in probate, administration and accounting cases. Call me now for a free discussion regarding your kinship or estate case.
New York City estate attorney Jules Martin Haas, Esq. has been representing clients in Estate Administration proceedings throughout the past 30 years. I have represented clients in many counties including Suffolk and Westchester Counties. 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.