Fiduciary Responsibility Never Ends – New Areas of Concern with AI Generated Material

Estate-Settlement-300x200A decedent’s estate consists of many different types of interests and assets.  These items may include bank accounts, security or other financial accounts, real estate interests, various retirement accounts such as individual retirement accounts, pensions and 401(k) plans, and business interests in partnerships or limited liability companies.  There can also be interests in creative works, trademarks and copyrights.

At the inception of an estate, a determination must be made as to whether a Last Will and Testament exists which needs to be probated.  In the event there is no Will, then letters of administration would be required to settle the estate under the intestacy statutes.  The appropriate proceedings must be filed in the Surrogate’s Court.  In either case, a fiduciary is needed to have the authority to handle the estate assets.  Assets that are owned by a decedent in his name alone pass through the estate.  When an asset has a named beneficiary or a joint owner with survivorship rights, these items are distributed directly to the other named party.

A fiduciary, whether an executor or administrator, has various powers and authority regarding estate affairs.  The Estates, Powers and Trusts Law Section 11-1.1 entitled “Fiduciaries’ Powers” provides a detailed list of powers.  These include powers to take possession of estate property and to sell or dispose of such property.

A fiduciary has an obligation to act properly and reasonably regarding the administration of an estate.  There may be situations which require proactive or reactive responsibilities.  Generally, an administrator or executor cannot favor one beneficiary over another.  If a fiduciary acts improperly, he can be held accountable monetarily for a breach of fiduciary duty.  Also, every fiduciary is responsible to account to the beneficiaries for his conduct.

Sometimes it is not easy or apparent for estate representatives to conduct themselves in a manner which will comport with fiduciary standards.  Some situations may be unique or unexpected.  Such a happenstance is recently occurring with advancements in what is known as AI technology, or artificial intelligence technology.  In a recent article written by Winston Cho in the Hollywood Reporter on January 25, 2024 entitled “George Carlin Estate Sues Creators of AI-Generated Comedy Special in Key Lawsuit over Stars’ Likenesses”, a novel issue regarding fiduciary duty was on display.  It seems that George Carlin’s estate commenced a lawsuit in a California Federal Court in which a comedy special was produced without the estate’s consent, using an AI-generated image of George Carlin used to imitate the comedian.  It is claimed that copyrighted and privacy rights were violated due to the computerized compilation of the comedian’s past routines.

Clearly, the fiduciary responsibilities of the estate representatives were challenged to protect the valuable intellectual and other property rights of the estate.

I have been representing New York estate fiduciaries in Surrogate’s Court cases for over forty (40) years.  An experienced trust and estate lawyer can be essential to protect and resolve estate issues.  Do you have a question regarding an estate or Surrogate’s Court case?  Call Me Now for a free confidential review of your estate matter.  We offer 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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