An Executor or Administrator in New York has a duty to discover and collect all of the assets that rightfully belong to a decedent’s estate. If the estate fiduciary fails to perform this task properly the estate beneficiaries may claim that there was a breach of a fiduciary duty.
Identifying and collecting estate assets requires that the fiduciary act diligently and pursue proper avenues to complete his obligations. The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has previously discussed some of the Estate Litigation procedures that can be used to recover estate property. For example, Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act (SCPA) Section 2103 provides a very common method to obtain estate assets. This statute is entitled “Proceeding by fiduciary to discover property withheld or obtain information.” When an executor or administrator has information that a third party has possession of an asset that belongs to an estate, the fiduciary can file a petition with the Surrogate’s Court to obtain the property. SCPA Sections 2103 and 2104 contemplate two types of Court proceedings. First, the statute allows the fiduciary to obtain information from the third-party by deposition questions and paper discovery as to whether the person is actually in possession of estate property. If so, the statute then provides for a proceeding in which the actual ownership of the property can be determined.Determining ownership rights regarding potential estate assets can be complicated. I have represented many estate fiduciaries in connection with SCPA 2103 court cases. I have prepared and filed petitions seeking the turnover of estate property. In a recent decision in the Estate of Chi-Chuan Wang, dated January 15, 2016, Manhattan Surrogate Rita Mella was presented with a petition under SCPA 2103. The petition was filed by the Public Administrator who was acting as the estate temporary administrator. The petition sought information regarding the decedent’s assets and the delivery to the estate of such assets that may be discovered.
In the course of defending against the turnover petition, the responding parties claimed that since they had filed a bankruptcy petition in the past, the bankruptcy discharge relieved them of any claim to return any property that may belong to the estate. After analyzing the bankruptcy code, New York Surrogate Mella determined that the bankruptcy provisions might not shield the respondents from being liable to the estate for recovery of property. Moreover, the Court found that the Public Administrator ‘s petition would not be dismissed since it had not yet been determined which assets the Administrator would ultimately pursue for recovery.
It is also interesting to note that there is a section in the SCPA that allows a third party to bring an estate litigation proceeding to recover assets that the party asserts are wrongfully held by a fiduciary. SCPA Section 2105 is entitled “Proceeding to compel delivery of property by a fiduciary which is claimed by another or others”. In some situations, if the third party contends that the estate should return that parties’ property, there is a Surrogate’s Court procedure to accomplish such goal. The assistance of an experienced Estate Lawyer in New York can be essential for these types of matters.
Many of my clients have been involved in Surrogate’s Court cases regarding disputes as to the ownership of property that involve estate’s rights. These ownership disputes have related to real estate as well as tangible personal property such as jewelry and other items. If you have a question regarding an estate dispute or other estate proceeding, call me now for a free discussion.
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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