New York Estate Assets Can Be Difficult to Identify and Collect

One of the first and sometimes most difficult tasks faced by an Executor or Administrator of an estate is to identify, protect and collect the assets of a decedent’s estate. There is a fiduciary obligation to perform these activities so that the estate beneficiaries’ interests are safeguarded. The fiduciary has very broad powers to find and collect assets. Usually, a Last Will enumerates the authority to collect assets. However, whether there is an Executor or Administrator, the Estate laws give these powers as well. For example, Estates, Powers and Trusts Law (EPTL) Section 11-1.1, entitled “Fiduciaries’ powers” states at paragraph (b)(5)(A) that a fiduciary has the authority with respect to property “To take possession of, collect the rents from and manage the same.”

While the authority granted may be broad, it is not always easy to identify and collect a decedent’s assets. Very often a person fails to maintain organized and complete records regarding bank accounts, stock ownership and business affairs. Moreover, the decedent may have been secretive during life and did not share all of his financial information with family members or professional advisors such an attorney or an accountant. In these cases, the fiduciary has to act like a detective and investigate all possible information regarding potential estate assets.I have represented many executors and administrators during the past 35 years in connection with estate settlement. As part of the services that I provide, I work with the fiduciary to discover and collect all estate assets. Typically, the decedent’s papers and records, such as tax returns, are reviewed and letters and inquiries are sent out to all possible sources seeking information regarding the decedent and any asset information that may be available.

Even when possible assets are identified, Long Island Estate Attorneys and other New York estate lawyers know that ascertaining the value of such items and collecting them may be difficult.   A recent case decided by Nassau Surrogate Edward McCarty III on February 28, 2015 entitled Estate of Bernfeld provides an interesting example of the problems associated with asset collection.  In Bernfeld, the decedent was a dentist who had died in 2009.   At the time of his death, the decedent’s dental office was also being occupied by another dentist named Kurilenko who appeared to have some affiliation with the decedent.   After the decedent died, Kurilenko essentially took over the entire dental practice and began to operate it under a new name to the exclusion of the estate. The Executor of the decedent’s estate had commenced a proceeding under Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act 2103 which allows a fiduciary to discover estate assets.  After a hearing, the Surrogate granted the Executor’s request and appointed a temporary receiver  to oversee the operation of the dental practice to protect the decedent’s interests.

If you have any questions regarding the settlement of a decedent’s estate, estate litigation or the collection of a decedent’s assets, call me to discuss your issue. All initial consultations are free.

New York City probate lawyer, Jules Martin Haas has helped many clients over the past 30 years throughout Nassau and Bronx Counties resolve issues relating to estate litigation and settlement in New York Probate proceedings. 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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