Estate assets may include bank accounts, security investment accounts and retirement funds. However, real estate ownership typically accounts for the largest value in most estates. Moreover, due to the many ways that real property may be owned and the lack of attention by owners to title formalities, an estate’s interest in such property may be frought with complexity.
Real property in New York can be owned individually or by more than one person as tenants in common or as joint tenants with rights of survivorship. A married couple can own real estate as tenants by the entirety. When a property owner dies, the post-death transfer of the property is typically going to be determined by a number of factors. One consideration is the manner in which the property is owned. If it is owned in joint tenancy with survivorship rights or as tenants by the entirety, the ownership will be automatically vested in the survivor by operation of law. However, if the property is held in the decedent’s individual name, it will pass either pursuant to the provisions in a decedent’s Last Will, or transferred by intestacy to the decedent’s next of kin.
As an Estate Attorney in New York City, I have represented clients in Brooklyn estates and Queens estates and Manhattan estates, for example, where the title to estate property was clouded by issues of ownership that preceded the decedent’s death. In many of these cases real estate that is technically owned by the decedent is still in the name of pre-deceased relatives since no formal action was taken to transfer the title after the death of the older relative. I have seen property still held in the name of deceased parents and grandparents of the decedent. Sorting out the current ownership of such property can be a monumental task and might delay the transfer or sale of the property for many months. This can lead to estate litigation.
Issues may also arise as to real estate that is claimed to be the subject of some type of pre-death agreement or was transferred prior to a decedent’s death under suspicious circumstances. A recent case entitled Norsen v. Trunzo, decided by Wayne County Supreme Court Justice Daniel Barrett on January 17, 2019, provides some insight into real estate ownership problems that could affect estate settlement. In Norsen, which involved living litigants, the plaintiff transferred her house to her daughter with the understanding that the plaintiff would be allowed to live in the house as long as she wanted or was able to do so. However, when the daughter decided to sell the house to her niece, the plaintiff objected because she was concerned that the niece would evict the plaintiff from the house. The Court granted the plaintiff a preliminary injunction which prevented the transfer of the property pending the outcome of plaintiff’s lawsuit for a constructive trust. Thus, Norsen is a prime example of ownership and agreement issues that may exist and affect property. A decedent’s real estate interests may be subject to or involve a claim for a constructive trust.
I have handled estates and all types of real estate matters and closings throughout New York City and its suburbs. Real estate is an important part of estate administration. If you have a question or issue regarding real estate and estate settlement, call me now for a free review. We offer flexible and reasonable fee arrangements.
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 Queens County and the Bronx. If you or someone you know has any questions regarding these matters, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 for an initial consultation.