The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has discussed on a number of occasions the many problems created when a person dies without a Last Will and Testament. One of the major issues faced in estate settlement and estate administration in such cases is determining the identity of the decedent’s distributees or next of kin. This determination is essential because the distributees are the individuals designated by law that will inherit the estate assets. As previously referred to in blog posts, New York Estates, Powers and Trusts Law section 4-1.1 provides a list of persons who have priority of inheritance.
It is quite common that a kinship hearing is required to determine the identity of distributees. Proof of kinship can be time-consuming, expensive and difficult. A recent example of the complexities of kinship determination was displayed in Matter of the Estate of Esther Onetha Springer, decided by Kings County Surrogate Margarita Lopez Torres on April 8, 2011. Esther Springer died in 1988 owning a one-half interest in her residence. Based upon investigation followed by testimony and other proof at Court hearings, it appeared that Esther had two children. One of those children, Clyde, had moved to California and died in 2001. Therefore, a determination needed to be made as to Clyde’s distributees. According to the Court decision, Clyde “had fathered a number of children from a number of relationships, marital and non-marital. . . .” It appears that Clyde had eight children and the New York Surrogate determined that it was necessary to use California law to establish Clyde’s distributees. The Court was ultimately able to determine kinship.
I have assisted clients throughout New York including Manhattan and Queens in kinship and intestate administration matters. As can be seen from the Esther decision, it is essential to prepare appropriate estate planning documents such as a Living Trust and Last Will and Testament to avoid the uncertainties of intestate proceedings. Additionally, in the event a person dies without proper planning, a good New York Trust and Estate attorney is important to help protect the rights of estate beneficiaries and to properly administer the decedent’s estate.