When a person dies without a Last Will he is said to have died intestate. The handling of an intestate estate falls under the heading of an administration proceeding as opposed to a probate proceeding when a person dies and leaves a Last Will. The fiduciary of an intestate estate is called an Administrator. The fiduciary of an estate where there is a Will is typically called an Executor. While a Will usually names and identifies the persons who are to be appointed as Executors, there is no such designation by a decedent when there is no Will. As a result, reference must be made to the provisions of the Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act (SCPA). Section 1001 of the SCPA provides a list of the decedent’s next of kin and others who have a right to be appointed as the estate administrator. The section is entitled “Order of priority for granting letters of administration”. The statutory list of persons who have the priority of appointment begins with the decedent’s spouse, and then goes to children, grandchildren, parents and more distant relatives. One of the problems encountered with appointing an administrator is that there may be multiple individuals who have the same priority rights to appointment and they may be adverse to each other. These situations typically result in estate litigation in the Surrogate’s Courts where the Court is called upon to decide which person or persons should be appointed as the fiduciary.
Additionally, there are cases where the person who has the priority for appointment as administrator is opposed by other interested parties who may assert that the proposed administrator is not appropriate or is unfit to serve as the estate fiduciary.A recent case decided by Brooklyn Surrogate Margarita Lopez-Torres on June 8, 2016 entitled Estate of Elesteen Steptoe provides an interesting discussion of these issues. In Steptoe, the daughter of the decedent petitioned the Kings County Surrogate’s Court for appointment as administrator. One of the decedent’s grandchildren filed Objections to the appointment and claimed that the daughter was unfit for the appointment. The Court reviewed the standards for disqualification that are contained in SCPA sections 707 and 711.
Following such review the Court determined that the daughter should be appointed and that none of the claimed Objections had merit. As can be seen from the Court’s decision, the statute requires that there be very specific factual events or circumstances to demonstrate dishonesty or a conflict of interest before a Court will refuse to appoint the person entitled by statute to serve as administrator. For example, although the Objectant claimed that there was a conflict of interest that would disqualify the daughter, the Court noted that a potential conflict would not result in disqualification. The Court required that there be shown actual misconduct or that some improper conduct will or has occurred.
The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has published numerous posts regarding estate administration and probate. I have represented clients in many estate litigation proceedings involving the appointment and removal of executors or administrators. If you have a question regarding the appointment or removal of an estate fiduciary, please call me now for a free discussion.
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 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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