When a person dies the New York Estate Laws provide certain preferential rights to a surviving spouse. For example, a surviving spouse has priority to be appointed as Administrator of an intestate estate. Also, the surviving spouse receives the largest distributive share of an intestate estate.
A spouse cannot be disinherited. The Estates, Powers and Trusts Law Section 5-1.1-A entitled “A Right of election by surviving spouse” gives a surviving spouse a Right of Election. This means that the survivor can elect to receive one-third of a decedent’s net estate. The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has had many posts regarding the Right of Election and the Notice of Right of Election.
This right is often utilized so that a spouse can receive a share of pension benefits or death benefits that have another person designated as the beneficiary.
One reoccurring source of pension or death benefit funds that is often the subject of a claim for a spousal election is the New York City Employees Retirement System commonly known as NYCERS. I have represented many clients who have filed a Right of Election with the Surrogate’s Court to claim their share of NYCERS benefits.
In a Bronx Estate case decided on September 17, 2018 entitled Estate of Huertas, Bronx Surrogate Nelida Malave-Gonzalez found that the spouse was entitled to receive a share of NYCERS benefits. These benefits had been designated by the decedent to be paid in full to a third-party. Although the Court found that the spouse was entitled to her spousal share, the Court also pointed out that in order to determine the correct amount to be paid, all of the estate assets and expenses needed to be identified. This is because the spouse is only entitled to receive a share of the net estate.
As can be seen from Huertas, enforcing and calculating a spouse’s elective right can be complex. It requires filing and prosecuting a case with the appropriate Surrogate’s Court. It is also necessary to fully determine and administer the decedent’s estate so that the net funds available for distribution can be determined.
Call me now for a free review if you have a question regarding spousal or other estate beneficiary inheritance rights.
New York Probate Attorney Jules Haas has helped many clients over the past 30 years resolve issues relating to intestate estates and estate settlement. If you or someone you know is in need of assistance regarding a New York Estate matter or have any questions regarding such proceedings, please contact me at (212) 355-2575.