Estate assets may include bank accounts, security investment accounts and retirement funds. However, real estate ownership typically accounts for the largest value in most estates. Moreover, due to the many ways that real property may be owned and the lack of attention by owners to title formalities, an estate’s interest in such property may be frought with complexity.
Real property in New York can be owned individually or by more than one person as tenants in common or as joint tenants with rights of survivorship. A married couple can own real estate as tenants by the entirety. When a property owner dies, the post-death transfer of the property is typically going to be determined by a number of factors. One consideration is the manner in which the property is owned. If it is owned in joint tenancy with survivorship rights or as tenants by the entirety, the ownership will be automatically vested in the survivor by operation of law. However, if the property is held in the decedent’s individual name, it will pass either pursuant to the provisions in a decedent’s Last Will, or transferred by intestacy to the decedent’s next of kin.
As an Estate Attorney in New York City, I have represented clients in Brooklyn estates and Queens estates and Manhattan estates, for example, where the title to estate property was clouded by issues of ownership that preceded the decedent’s death. In many of these cases real estate that is technically owned by the decedent is still in the name of pre-deceased relatives since no formal action was taken to transfer the title after the death of the older relative. I have seen property still held in the name of deceased parents and grandparents of the decedent. Sorting out the current ownership of such property can be a monumental task and might delay the transfer or sale of the property for many months. This can lead to estate litigation.