There are some very basic rules regarding the handling of a New York estate. Initially, a determination needs to be made as to whether or not a decedent had a Last Will and Testament or died intestate. If there is a Will, then a probate proceeding is filed with the Surrogate’s Court. In the event there is no Will, then a petition is filed to obtain letters of administration. The New York Probate Lawyer Blog provides extensive articles regarding both of these types of procedures.
Regardless of the nature of the proceeding that is being presented to the Surrogate’s Court, it is imperative that the information given to the Court be as complete and accurate as possible. The primary document which contains the essential substantive information is the petition which would typically be either a probate petition or petition for letters of administration.
The above petitions require various items of data such as the name and address of the petitioner, the name and residence address of the decedent, and date of death. Information is also needed as to the approximate value of the estate. This is required so that the Court can assess, among other things, the amount of the filing fees and the amount of the surety bond to be required if the Court decides that a surety bond is necessary. Bonds are most often required in intestate administration proceedings since most Wills contain a provision waiving the filing of a bond by the named executor.
Another extremely important set of data to be included in a petition is a complete identification of the persons interested in the proceeding, especially the decedent’s distributees (i.e., next of kin). If complete heirship information is not, or cannot, be provided, the petition cannot go forward to finalize the appointment of a permanent executor or administrator. The Court is extremely diligent with regard to knowing the full extent of the next of kin data since these individuals have important estate rights which much be safeguarded.
When inaccurate or false information is presented to the Surrogate’s Court, the Court will act swiftly to find a remedy which may include disallowing the person filing the petition from serving as a fiduciary. A recent Bronx estate case entitled Estate of Anderson, decided by Bronx Surrogate Nelida Malave-Gonzalez on July 6, 2021, provides a perfect example of a situation where false data was inserted into a petition for letters of administration.
In Anderson, an alleged brother of a decedent filed a petition for letters of administration seeking to be appointed as the estate administrator. The petition alleged that the decedent’s only distributees were the brother and a sister. Based upon the brother’s petition, letters of administration were issued to the brother. As it turned out, the alleged brother was not related to the decedent, who in fact had 10 distributees along with the sister. Moreover, apparently service of the Court papers on the sister was never accomplished and false information as to service was given to the Court.
Upon learning of the estate proceedings that were ongoing, the sister filed papers with the Court to revoke the fake brother’s appointment. After learning about the true nature of the decedent’s estate, the Court revoked the letters of administration which had been issued to the brother and required that he file an accounting with the Court. The Court referred to Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act Section 711 entitled “Suspension, modification or revocation of letters or removal for disqualification or misconduct,” and to paragraph (4) of the statute which authorizes revocation of letters where letters were obtained using a false material fact.
Anderson demonstrates how important it is to provide the Court with complete and accurate information. I have represented dozens of individuals in connection with probate and administration petitions in the Surrogate’s Court. Call Me Now for a free confidential review of your estate or guardianship issue. We offer reasonable and flexible fee arrangements and personal representation.
New York Trusts and Estates Attorney Jules Martin Haas has helped many clients over the past 40 years resolve issues relating to guardianship and probate and estate settlement throughout New York City including the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Nassau and Suffolk County. If you or someone you know has any questions regarding these matters, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 for an initial free consultation.