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How Can an Estate Beneficiary Protect an Inheritance – Some Steps to Consider

As a Trusts and Estates lawyer in New York, I receive many inquiries from individuals who are concerned about recovering and protecting their estate inheritances.  The administration aspect of an estate generally can be in one of two forms.  There is a probate estate where a decedent dies leaving a Last Will and Testament.  When there is no Will, the estate is the subject of an intestate administration.  The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has published many articles discussing probate and intestacy matters.

When a person believes that a decedent named him as a beneficiary on an account such as a pay on death account or as a designated beneficiary of an asset such as life insurance, the beneficiary should contact the financial institution directly to obtain all details.  Typically, the beneficiary needs to present a death certificate and complete an appropriate death benefit application or withdrawal form.  These papers can be obtained and submitted directly to the bank, insurance company or other institution to claim the inheritance.  There is no need to contact the estate executor or administrator since these types of assets pass outside of the probate or intestate estate.

In some instances, there may be disputes as to whether a proper beneficiary designation form was prepared or filed by a decedent.  These matters may need to be resolved through estate litigation.

In a case where an executor or administrator has been appointed by the Surrogate’s Court, the fiduciary is responsible for collecting the decedent’s assets and, ultimately, paying out the beneficiary distributions.  During the course of estate administration, the fiduciary may not provide a beneficiary with any information regarding the estate assets or expenses.  However, the fiduciary has an obligation to provide a full accounting before an estate can be settled.  This accounting provides a beneficiary with a full picture as to receipts and expenditures and the calculation of a beneficiary’s expected payment.

Sometimes, the administrator or executor does not provide an accounting, or may even refuse to do so.  When this happens, the beneficiary has a right to demand that the accounting be provided.  The Surrogate’s Court has a procedure whereby a fiduciary can be ordered by the Court to file an accounting.  Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act Section 2205 entitled “Compulsory account and related relief on a court’s own initiative or on petition; who may petition,” provides the procedure for obtaining an account.

It is important for all estate beneficiaries to be diligent with regard to ascertaining and collecting their inheritance.  Sometimes they can act on their own and contact the organization making the payment directly.  Other times, the beneficiary should ask the fiduciary about payment of their share.  Assistance from the Surrogate’s Court and resorting to litigation in the estate may be the only option.

I have represented many individuals regarding beneficiary payments and estate inheritance rights.  Call Me Now for a free confidential review of your estate 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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