When a person dies intestate (without a Last Will), his estate is distributed according to the laws of intestacy. Estates, Powers and Trusts Law (EPTL) Section 4-1.1 entitled “Descent and distribution of a decedent’s estate” , provides the statutory list of distributees entitled to receive a distributive estate share.
In order to receive a share, a potential heir must be able to demonstrate his relationship to the decedent. In many cases where the heirs at law are uncertain, the Surrogate’s Court will require a Kinship Hearing before it allows the distribution of the estate funds. The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has posted many articles regarding Kinship proceedings and intestate distribution.Proof of kinship can be very difficult. The Court and statutes require that a person demonstrate without any doubt that he is a descendant of a decedent. Estate Lawyers who handle Kinship cases are familiar with the need to obtain evidence that shows the family tree of the decedent. This evidence includes birth, death and marriage records. Additionally, records of past estate filings for a decedent’s relatives may contain family histories.
Another source of information can be obituaries and census records. Sometimes manifests from ship records can show the identity of family members that emigrated to the United States. In other cases, the archives of foreign countries may need to be searched for family records. This can be very complicated particularly where the foreign country does not maintain official files. Documents that may be held in old church records or small town halls may need to be researched.
The need for this extensive search is to make certain that the individuals claiming to be heirs are really related to the decedent. In addition, it is necessary to be certain that all possible heirs are found. This may be hard to do when a decedent has had a number of marriages or has children born out of wedlock.
A recent Manhattan estate case shows that the Court will not allow the release of estate funds without proof of kinship. Matter of Estate of Ramos was decided by Manhattan Surrogate Rita Mella on August 22, 2018. In Ramos, the decedent died and his estate was entitled to receive the proceeds of a personal injury action that was begun prior to his death. Since the decedent had no known distributees the Court appointed the Manhattan Public Administrator to handle the estate affairs. The Court also directed that a Kinship Hearing be held. At the hearing no potential distributees appeared or presented any proof of kinship. As a result, the Court directed that the net estate funds be deposited with the New York City Commissioner of Finance.
In these types of cases, the Commissioner holds onto the funds until a person claiming kinship commences a proceeding in the Surrogate’s Court to have these funds withdrawn and paid out. The claimant is required to prove kinship in order to succeed in these cases. Many times, the services of professional genealogists can help research the decedent’s family tree and obtain the needed kinship documents.
I have represented many individuals in connection with the proof of kinship. If you have a question or issue regarding kinship or estate administration call me now for a free review. New York City estate attorney Jules Martin Haas, Esq. has been representing clients in Estate Administration proceedings throughout the past 30 years. I have represented clients in many counties including Queens and Westchester Counties. If you or someone you know is involved with or has questions about a Last Will or other aspects of Probate or Estate Administration, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 for an initial consultation.