A New York decedent may have many different interests in property and assets. Such interests may include real estate such as a residence and financial and bank accounts. These assets are disposed of after death through a number of methods. There may be a Last Will and Testament which, after being admitted to probate, controls the disposition of items held in the decedent’s name alone. Also, assets that are owned jointly or that contain designated beneficiaries are distributed by operation of law to the designee. The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has published many posts talking about asset distribution from an estate.
Another very important right that may flow from a decedent is a right to succeed or take over the tenancy of a decedent’s New York City rent stabilized or rent controlled apartment. This right which is typically afforded to certain family members identified in the rent regulations is important because it preserves the tenancy and rent limitations for the successors. The rent laws and regulations provide very specific guidelines for someone to qualify for this favored treatment.
In addition to family members, the rules allow for so-called non-traditional family members to obtain these rental rights under certain conditions. Where individuals have relationships that in effect amount to financial and family-type interdependence, the law will recognize the need to allow the survivor to take over the apartment tenancy. In these cases, a Court will scrutinize the nature and extent of the relationship to see whether the statutory criteria have been satisfied.
A recent case concerning such a non-traditional relationship was decided by New York City Civil Court Judge Jack Stoller on January 9, 2020 in the matter of Cornfeld v. Bhuiyan. In Cornfeld, a person who was a home attendant and had lived with the deceased tenant and had become intimately involved with the tenant’s financial affairs, sought to succeed to the deceased tenant’s rights to her New York City rent stabilized apartment.
The Court extensively reviewed the evidence presented which included facts from a Surrogate’s Court Will Contest in which the decedent’s Will was invalidated due to the undue influence of the home attendant. After reviewing the extensive trial record, the Court in Cornfeld found that the home attendant did not meet the criteria to allow a succession of the tenancy. Specifically, the Court noted that despite financial intermingling between the parties and the decedent’s longtime relationship with the health attendant, the attendant was, in reality, a fiduciary who had a legal obligation of loyalty and fairness. The Court found that the fiduciary relationship was breached by the home attendant and that the emotional and financial commitment that is required to obtain succession rights was really an outgrowth of the improper conduct of the home attendant in taking advantage of the decedent. Thus, the Court dismissed the home health attendant’s defenses and ordered that the attendant be evicted.
I have represented individuals in many landlord-tenant estate disputes and property matters. Estate litigation in the Surrogate’s Court and the Civil Court can be complicated. Call me now for a free review of your estate issue. We provide reasonable and flexible fee arrangements and personal representation.
New York Trusts and Estates Attorney Jules Martin Haas has helped many clients over the past 40 years resolve issues relating to probate and estate settlement throughout New York City including the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Nassau and Suffolk County. If you or someone you know has any questions regarding these matters, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 for an initial free consultation.