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An Important Part of Estate Planning In New York Is To Understand Property Ownership

Estate Planning in New York involves a number of items to be reviewed.  Most individuals initially approach planning by determining how their estate is going to be distributed.  Thus, decisions are made as to various bequests that are to be provided in a Last Will.  A simple bequest may be a specific dollar amount, say $5,000, to be given to a named individual.  There may also be a devise of a certain interest in real estate to a designated individual.  Other types of dispositions may include creating a trust for a minor child or a Supplemental Needs Trust for a person under a disability.  Also, there can be residuary dispositions to individuals or even charities whereby the balance of an estate is disposed of.

However, before the dispositions in a Will can be determined it is imperative to determine which assets are to pass under a Will as part of the probate estate.  The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has published many articles concerning estate planning and property ownership.  If an asset passes by operation of law, such as a joint bank account, or the asset has a beneficiary designation such as life insurance, then the asset is not controlled by the Last Will.  As a result, there may not be sufficient assets passing under a Will to satisfy the various bequests and dispositions set forth in the Will terms.

As can be imagined, it is very important to understand how assets are owned so a determination can be made as to how they are to be disposed of at death.  This issue was recently shown in a recent Manhattan estate case decided by New York Surrogate Rita Mella on May 23, 2019, entitled in Matter of Estate of Watson.  This case involved a cooperative apartment owned by two individuals, Watson and Vicic, life partners.   They died within a year of each other and a dispute arose between their estates as to the ownership of the cooperative and entitlement to the net sales proceeds.  Watson died intestate without a Will and Vicic died testate with a Will.

Estate litigation in the Surrogate’s Court determined that the stock certificate for the co-op showed that the co-op was owned as tenants in common meaning that each estate held an equal share as opposed to a joint tenancy where the full ownership would have passed to the surviving joint tenant owner.

In its decision in Watson, the Court determined that a trial was required to determine whether the two estate’s interests would require adjustment due to unequal monetary contributions by the decedents.

The Court decision does not discuss whether the two co-owners ever discussed or considered the consequences when one or both of them died.  They both could have made clear in estate planning papers or agreements the disposition of their interests as to each other.  Due to this uncertainty, litigation ensued and further Surrogate’s Court litigation is needed that will delay estate settlement and administration of the estates.

I have represented clients in Surrogate’s Court cases concerning property disputes including cooperative and real estate interests such as single family homes.   Call me now for a free review of your estate case.  We offer reasonable and flexible fee arrangements and personal representation.

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 Nassau County and Brooklyn.   If you or someone you know has any questions regarding these matters, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 for an initial free consultation.

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