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Important Facts Regarding Intestate Estates In New York

Important Facts Regarding Intestate Estates In New York

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When a person dies without a Last Will he is said to have died intestate.  In these cases,  a person’s estate is distributed according to Estates, Powers and Trusts Law section 4-1.1 entitled “Descent and distribution of a decedent’s estate.

As a Trust and Estates Attorney, I have represented clients in many Surrogate’s Court proceedings concerning intestacy.  Typically, the major issue or question that is faced at the beginning of these cases is whether or not the decedent left a Last Will.  Unless a Will is known by the decedent’s family or friends to have been prepared and signed or a Will is easily found among the decedent’s effects or its location is known, the family is left wondering whether such document exists.

When an intestate proceeding in the Surrogate’s Court is commenced, a Petition for Letters of Administration is filed with the Court.  This petition typically contains a statement whereby the petitioner represents that a diligent search was made for a Will of the decedent including searching any safe deposit box and that no Will could be found.  The petition also requires that the petitioner assert that there is no information regarding a Will.

In view of this requirement, someone who is seeking to obtain Letters of Administration has a duty to make at least a cursory search for a Will and is required to advise the Court if there is information about such a document.  In most cases, there typically is no evidence of a Will and the Administration Proceeding can go forward.  However, there are instances where documents may exist that cause some confusion and complexity in the process.  Most notably, it is common that a copy of a Will is found but the original is missing.  Also, a Will may be found that is unsigned.  When such instances arise, there are various procedures that may be followed.  In a recent Manhattan Estate case decided by Manhattan Surrogate Rita Mella,  a copy, but not the original, of a Last Will was located.  The case is entitled Matter of Estate of Karp and was decided on August 6, 2018.

The Court discussed that the Administration petition disclosed that the decedent left a copy of a Will and that there was no presumption of testacy.  The Court also determined that the petitioner’s efforts to find the original of the Will were sufficiently diligent.  In this circumstance the Court dismissed objections to the Administration petition that were filed by some of the beneficiaries named in the copy of the Will.  It was significant that the Court had given the beneficiaries the opportunity to try and probate the copy of the Will as a Lost Will but that they failed to file such a proceeding with the Court.

I have filed Administration cases throughout the counties in the New York metropolitan area.  If you have a question regarding an Estate Administration or other estate settlement problems, call me now for a free discussion.

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 and Queens.   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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