Estate Litigation Often Involves the Decedent’s Interests in Real Estate

New York Estate Litigation can involve many aspects of Estate Settlement. Surrogate’s Court proceedings often concern issues such as the validity of a Last Will in a Will Contest. The identity of Estate Distributees may require a kinship hearing.

Controversies regarding the ownership of estate assets also presents many opportunities for litigation by parties represented by Trusts and Estates Attorneys. These disputes may involve claims by the estate that an individual has wrongfully obtained assets that should be turned over to the estate. Conversely, a person may claim that the decedent’s estate should return property that it is not entitled to claim ownership of. Whatever the circumstances, the issues can get complex and the time and expense expended by the Estate Executor or Administrator can be quite large. Of course, the best way to avoid these problems is to create a comprehensive Estate Plan before death. Clearly defining and resolving disputes concerning ownership of real estate and business interests while the decedent is alive is much more efficient than having to figure out what the deceased individual did or did not intend regarding these matters after death.

A good estate planning guide would include making a list of all assets and business interests owned. The next step should be to review and examine all of the papers relating to these assets such as deeds, shareholder agreements, stock certificates and operating agreements to determine what issues currently exist or may arise in the event of death that might effect the smooth disposition of these interests. Once these issues or problems are identified steps can be taken to try and eliminate any potential difficulties for administration in the decedent’s estate.

Recent cases decided by the New York Courts show that unresolved problems can drastically effect estate settlement and require the assistance of a New York estate litigation attorney. In Sealy v. Clifton LLC, decided by Kings County Surrogate Anthony Cutrona on March 21, 2012 and reported in the New York Law Journal on April 9, 2012, the decedent held an interest in a New York Limited Liability Company that owned investments in real estate. Litigation involved issues regarding the dissolution of the LLC following the decedent’s death and the estate’s interest relating to such dissolution. In Kanakos v. Kostakos decided by the Hon. Charles J. Markey (Supreme Court, Queens County) on March 20, 2012 and reported in the New York Law Journal on April 12, 2012, an estate distributee brought an action against the decedent’s brother claiming that the brother had wrongfully transferred and sold the decedent’s real estate prior to the decedent’s death. The Court dismissed these claims since the Court action was commenced by the distributee individually instead of on behalf of the decedent’s estate as a fiduciary.

As can be seen, estate litigation can be complex and the problems that arise often can be avoided by proper estate planning and guidance from a New York trusts and estates lawyer.

As a New York City probate lawyer, I have helped many clients over the past 30 years throughout the Manhattan and Queens Counties resolve issues relating to estate administration and settlement in New York Probate and Administration proceedings. If you or someone you know has any questions regarding these matters, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 for an initial consultation.

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