New York Estate Attorneys are aware of the many statutes and rules regarding Wills, Estate Settlement and Surrogate’s Court procedures. The Estates, Powers and Trusts Law (“EPTL”) and the Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act (“SCPA”) embody the statutory framework regarding estates practice.
Among the many items contained in these laws are provisions regarding the rights of a decedent’s surviving spouse. As would be expected, a spouse, along with children, play prominent roles when it comes to inheritance. For example, if a person dies intestate (i.e, without a Last Will) EPTL 4-1.1 requires that a spouse receive $50,000 plus one-half of the decedent’s estate when there are also surviving issue (i.e. children). If there are no issue surviving, the spouse receives the entire estate. However, what is the outcome where the decedent does leave a Last Will but makes no provision in the Will for the spouse or for children. In New York a person may disinherit his children entirely. A spouse though may not be completely cut out from inheriting. As discussed in previous posts in the New York Probate Lawyer Blog, EPTL 5-1.1-A entitled “Right of election by surviving spouse” contains provisions that effectively give a spouse at least $50,000 or one-third of a decedent’s net estate. The statute goes on to provide a procedure to follow for an aggrieved spouse to claim this statutory minimum amount. If a spouse is completely disinherited under a Will or is not designated to receive a sum at least equal to the right of election amount, the spouse can prepare and file an Election to take this elective share rather than the lesser amount designated by a Last Will.
The statute provides very explicit procedures that must be followed to preserve and effectuate this election. EPTL 5-1.1-A(d) contains the “Procedure for exercise of right of election” and sets forth requirements which include that the election must be made within 6 months after the issuance of fiduciary letters but not later than 2 years after the death of the decedent. Also, the election must be served on the estate’s personal representative and filed with the Surrogate’s Court.
A recent case decided by Brooklyn Surrogate Diana Johnson entitled Estate of Shlomo Cyngiel illustrates the necessity to obide by the requirements of the Right of Election Statute. Cyngiel was decided on July 23, 2013 and reported in the New York Law Journal on July 30, 2013. The decedent’s spouse died over 5 years after the decedent and, as found by the Court, failed to follow the statutory procedures to timely file for the Election. The deceased spouse’s Executor applied to the Surrogate to grant an extension of the time to file on behalf of the deceased spouse. The Surrogate found that the Executor did not present a justifiable basis to allow an extension of time to allow a late filing. The Court also stated that a right of election is a personal right of a surviving spouse and must be exercised during the spouse’s lifetime. The estate of the surviving spouse was precluded from exercising the election.
The use of a Right of Election is an important aspect in both pre-death Estate Planning and post-death estate administration. Therefore, it is always a good approach to review and discuss these issues with an experienced Estate Lawyer.