New York Distributees May Be Adopted Persons and Interested in a Decedent’s Estate

The New York Probate of a Last Will and an administration proceeding for an intestate (no Will) estate each requires compliance with provisions in the New York Estates Powers and Trusts Law (EPTL) and the Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act (SCPA).

Among the most fundamental provisions of these statutes is the requirement that parties who have an interest in the proceedings receive proper notice so that they can appear in Court and protect their rights. In this regard, it is not always easy to determine or to locate all the parties whose interests must be disclosed to Court so that proper notice is provided to them.

For example, in both probate and intestate administration proceedings, all of the decedent’s distributees must be determined and located so that notice, usually in the form of a Citation, can be sent to them. A Citation is a paper issued by the Surrogate’s Court in New York, whether in Nassau County or Brooklyn or otherwise, in which the Court designates a date for the case to appear on the Court calendar and advises the party receiving the Citation to appear on such date in connection with the particular relief that is to be presented (i.e., probate of the Will).

The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has previously discussed some of the many issues that arise in determining interested parties such as questions regarding Kinship and problems faced by persons whose father was not married to their mother at the time of birth.

In a recent case entitled Matter of Cutler, which was decided on October 31, 2011 and reported in the New York Law Journal on November 14, 2011, Surrogate Edward W. McCarthy III (Nassau County) was presented with an issue concerning a biological child of the decedent. It appears that the child had been adopted by a stepfather after the decedent and the child’s mother were divorced. In connection with the probate of the decedent-father’s Last Will, the proposed Executor asked the Court to unseal the child’s adoption records so that the child could be located and given notice of the probate proceeding. As explained by the Court, notwithstanding the adoption of the child by the stepfather, New York Domestic Relations Law Section 117(1) provided that the adoption by the stepfather did not eliminate the child’s interest as a distributee of the child’s deceased parent. Therefore, the child remained a distributee of her father pursuant to EPTL 4-1.1 and was entitled to notice in the probate proceeding.

The Court allowed the unsealing of the records but appointed a Guardian ad Litem to supervise the process to protect the privacy of the adoption process.

As can be seen from Cutler the assistance of a Nassau Probate Lawyer was needed to advise the nominated executor with regard to probating the decedent’s Last Will. I have represented many individuals in probate and intestate administration proceedings regarding the identification and location of all parties who must receive notice and providing the Court with the information necessary to complete these cases. Estate settlement and administration often necessitates a full review of a decedent’s family history which requires extensive research. While thoughtful estate planning through the use of a Last Will and Living Trust may avoid some of these post-death problems, it is more often the case that such planning has not been done and estate administration is delayed and complicated while a search for interested parties is performed.

New York Probate Attorney Jules M. Haas has helped many clients over the past 30 years resolve issues relating to intestate estates, estate planning, kinship and estate settlement. I have represented clients in these matters throughout New York including the Bronx and Queens Counties. 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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