The New York Probate Blog contains numerous articles discussing the differences between Surrogate’s Court probate proceedings and administration proceedings. When a decedent leaves a Last Will, the process is to probate the Will and then to distribute the estate assets according to the Will provisions. The appointed Executor will receive Letters Testamentary from the Court. If a person dies intestate (without a Will), the next of kin or distributees need to file a petition to obtain Letters of Administration. New York Estate Litigation Lawyers are aware that there can be many complications and controversies in Administration cases.
A recent decision by Suffolk County Surrogate John Czygier decided on September 16, 2014 and entitled Estate of Lambert, provides an example of many of the potential problems. In Lambert the decedent died as the result of a vehicular accident. He was survived by eight children all of whom were non-marital. Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act (“SCPA”) Section 1002 sets forth the requirements as to which persons are allowed to present a petition for letters of administration and SCPA 1001 states the persons to whom letters should be granted by the Court. Essentially, in the typical case a person must be a distributee or next-of-kin of the decedent to qualify for appointment. Where a person is a non-marital child, Estates, Powers and Trusts Laws (EPTL) Section 4-1.2, which is entitled “Inheritance by non-marital children”, provides the rules for such persons to prove their kinship to a decedent.
In Lambert, the kinship of the applicants was an issue the Court had to review. Another problem in Lambert was that two of the children had filed petitions for appointment as Administrator in opposition to each other. This is not an uncommon occurrence and many estates have been delayed by extensive estate litigation as to which person should be appointed as administrator. When many people have an equal right to be appointed and they do not agree, the Court needs to decide who to appoint. While the Court may be guided by such factors as to whom the majority of the distributees would prefer to act as Administrator, the Court has great discretion in deciding this issue.
In the Lambert case, the Surrogate found that there was a tremendous amount of disharmony between different factions of the decedent’s family. The Court also was concerned that since a number of the decedent’s children were minors, their interests might have been prejudiced by the actions of the potential family administrators. Ultimately, the Court disqualified both the children’s petitions and appointed the Suffolk County Public Administrator as the estate administrator.
The creation of a New York Estate Plan can avoid many of the problems presented in Lambert. The creation of a Last Will and possibly a Living Trust can allow a person to express his intention as to whom should be the fiduciary to administer estate affairs and the creator can specify the persons who are to receive estate assets and the amount of their inheritance. I have represented many clients in disputed administration and probate proceedings and have also helped create estate plans intended to avoid the type of controversy that occurred in the Lambert case.
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 Manhattan and Brooklyn. 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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