Estate Litigation May Arise from a Decedent’s Personal Relationships

shutterstock_199873709-300x200Executors and Administrators of a New York estate bear a great responsibility with regard to their handling of a decedent’s affairs.  From the surface it appears rather straightforward that the estate fiduciary needs to identify a decedent’s assets and arrange for their collection.  Similarly, debts and expenses must be found and satisfied.  The New York Probate Lawyer Blog contains numerous posts discussing trust and estate matters.

However, the administration of an estate requires that the fiduciary thoroughly investigate a decedent’s personal affairs in order to achieve a complete estate settlement.  For example, determining basic facts regarding a person’s kinship may be difficult where a decedent has lost or avoided all contact with family members for decades.  While the decedent may not have wanted anything to do with his family members, a nominated executor will need to dig into the history of the next of kin so that the jurisdiction of the probate proceeding can be completed.  As an estate lawyer, I have been involved in many cases where more information about kinship is learned than was ever known by the decedent.

Similarly, the fiduciary of an estate may need to deal with issues that have plagued a decedent for years and which he refused or could not resolve.  It is not uncommon where a person dies and owns a business that the partners or co-owners could not get along or were antagonistic toward each other.  The fiduciary is compelled to find a resolution to such problems since the estate’s interest in the business asset needs to be protected and placed into some proper form so it can be transferred to beneficiaries under a Last Will or to intestate heirs.

The types of problems that may confront an administrator are endless.  There may be personal affair issues relating to a marriage, children (both marital and non-marital) and other relationships which need to be resolved.  A recent case entitled Whalen v. McElroy, decided by Westchester Supreme Court Justice Terry Jane Ruderman on April 30, 2021, discusses some interesting, although not uncommon issues.  McElroy does not involve an estate but the problems faced by the litigants could very well fall into the lap of a fiduciary.

In McElroy, the plaintiff and defendant lived together in a romantic relationship in the defendant’s property for years.  During this time, as alleged, the plaintiff made extensive repairs to the property and expended large amounts of funds for the benefit of maintaining the property.  In addition, as alleged, the plaintiff claimed an interest in the property through a constructive trust based upon assertions that he relied upon the defendant’s promises that he would have ownership rights in the property.  In this case, the Court refused to dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint and directed that the lawsuit could proceed.

It is very possible that similar types of claims might be asserted against a decedent and estate property.  An executor may be faced with defending or even prosecuting such a case having no prior knowledge or involvement with the decedent’s actions and relationships during life.

As an estate lawyer, I have represented fiduciaries and other parties in all aspects of estate litigation in the Surrogate’s Court and other forums.   These are matters where the assistance of experienced counsel can be essential to protect various rights and interests. Call Me Now for a free confidential review of your estate or 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 guardianship and 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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