Did You Know That The Surrogate’s Court May Determine The Administrator Of An Estate?


The distribution of a decedent’s estate is controlled either by a Last Will and Testament or by the laws of intestacy. When there is no Last Will, Estates, Powers and Trusts Law Section 4-1.1 entitled “Descent and distribution of a decedent’s estate” determines the individuals who are entitled to a share of the estate assets. These individuals are the decedent’s next of kin or distributees.

In many intestate estate cases, it is difficult to determine the identity of the distributees. A person’s next of kin may be remote relatives such as cousins. If the family was estranged, the members may have lived in many different states or countries and have had no contact with each other for generations. The Surrogate’s Court and the New York estate laws require that complete kinship information be presented in the form of death certificates, birth records, marriage records and other documentation to demonstrate kinship. New York Estate lawyers help with kinship hearings and estate litigation when heirship is unclear. The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has posted many articles concerning kinship. Call me now if you have a kinship question.

Another aspect of intestacy is the appointment of the estate administrator. If there is a Will, the Court would appoint an executor. When there is no Will, the Court appoints an administrator. Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act (SCPA) Section 1001 entitled “Order of Priority for granting letters of administration” sets forth the persons who have the right to be appointed as the administrator. Essentially, these are the same individuals who have rights as distributees.

Sometimes there is a dispute among the persons who have equal rights to the appointment. In these cases, the parties may act together as co-administrators or the Court may need to determine which party, if any, should be appointed. SCPA 1001 Section 1(f)(i) provides that “where there are eligible distributees equally entitled to administer the court may grant letters of administration to one or more of such persons.” The Court has discretion in making such an appointment and may consider appointing the person who represents the largest share of the estate.

A recent Manhattan estate case entitled “Estate of Abram,” decided by Manhattan Surrogate Rita Mella on December 20, 2019, concerned this situation. In Abram, there were competing children of the decedent who wanted to be appointed as administrator. The Court exercised its discretion pursuant to SCPA 1001 in appointing the fiduciary. The Court adhered to its prior decision and did not find that allegations of wrongdoing were sufficient to disqualify the appointees.

I have represented many individuals in intestate administration in the Surrogates’ Court. Call me now if you have a question or concern regarding your estate matter. 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 30 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.

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