The gross estate of a decedent includes many different types of assets. There are assets such as bank accounts and real estate that were owned by the decedent in his name alone at the time of death. These assets would be subject to the control of an estate executor or administrator.
Other assets may pass outside of the administration estate by operation of law. For example, there may be items owned as joint tenants such as bank accounts or items such as life insurance where there is a designated beneficiary. In these cases the asset is owned immediately upon the decedent’s death by the joint owner or specified beneficiary. The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has posted many articles discussing the various types of estate assets and the ownership issues that can be involved. In particular, the ownership of joint assets by a decedent tends to result in estate litigation. This especially so where there are questions as to the validity concerning the creation of the joint account or the manner in which a joint tenant accessed the decedent’s funds prior to death. Since the joint asset passes outside of the estate administration, the decedent’s Will beneficiaries or heirs at law if the decedent died intestate, cannot receive a share of the joint asset value.
A recent case decided by Richmond Supreme Court Justice Philip G. Minardo on October 11, 2017 entitled Laura Solomon v. Audrey Silverstein, reflects these joint asset disputes. In Solomon, the decedent had created a joint bank account that included her two daughters, Laura and Audrey. Prior to the decedent’s death, unbeknownst to Laura or the decedent, Audrey withdrew all of the funds from the account.
After the decedent died, Laura brought a proceeding in the Staten Island Surrogate’s Court to have the account proceeds turned over to the decedent’s estate. However, this proceeding was dismissed since the Court found that the dispute was between living persons i.e., Laura and Audrey, since the joint funds would not have been part of the administration estate.
In the pending Supreme Court case the Court denied Audrey’s attempt to dismiss Laura’s lawsuit which was based, upon conversion, fraud, breach of contract and constructive trust. The important aspect of the Solomon case is that joint assets can create estate litigation issues. There may be problems presented as to whether the decedent had the capacity to create a joint account that came into existence shortly before death. Additionally, a joint owner may have improperly utilized funds from a joint account prior to the decedent’s death.
I have represented individuals in connection with disputes regarding joint assets matters. Call me now for a free discussion regarding your estate or joint asset issue. New York Probate Attorney Jules Martin Haas has helped many clients over the past 30 years resolve issues relating to estate planning, estate accounting and estate settlement in Manhattan and Queens and throughout New York. If you or someone you know has any questions regarding these matters, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 for an initial consultation.