The commencement of a proceeding to initiate the settlement of a decedent’s estate requires a determination of the proper Court to accept the filing of papers. Upon the death of a decedent, it is first necessary to find whether the decedent had prepared a Last Will and Testament or died intestate. This information will allow a petitioner to properly prepare either a petition for probate to receive letters testamentary or a petition for letters of administration.
Additionally, a finding must be made before a filing as to the jurisdiction in which the decedent was domiciled. Domicile involves more than just residence. A person can have multiple residences in different states or even countries. However, there is only one place of domicile which is where a decedent maintained his primary home. Usually domicile is easy to locate since a decedent would file taxes, have a place of business or employment, maintain bank accounts and have other local connections. There are occasions when such a determination may be more difficult to finalize. Domicile is important because the place of domicile, for the most part, will determine the local estate laws which apply to the estate. Also, the Court in the place of domicile is usually the proper forum to file the estate proceeding. The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has discussed the issue domicile in earlier blog posts. Disputes regarding domicile may involve substantial issues of estate rights. For example, a spousal right of election may have different benefits in one jurisdiction as opposed to another.
In addition to domicile, an issue may arise as to the appropriate local Court to file the estate papers. Thus, when there is a domiciliary of New York State, is it proper to file papers in the Queens Surrogate’s Court, or should the papers be filed in Manhattan Surrogate’s Court? Again, a review of the decedent’s domicile location becomes important.
The locality issue involves a choice of venue – i.e., which local Court is jurisdictionally appropriate. While such an issue seems to be rather insignificant, parties to an estate may have a dispute about venue. The Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act Section 205 entitled “Domiciliaries; jurisdiction and venue” provides rules in this regard.
A recent Bronx estate case decided by Bronx Surrogate Nelida Malave-Gonzalez on March 9, 2022 entitled Estate of Hayes, concerned these issues. In Hayes, a son of the decedent, Raymond, filed a petition in Orange County for letters of administration asserting that the decedent was a domiciliary of Orange County. Another son, Irving, then filed a petition in the Bronx Surrogate’s Court alleging that the decedent was a domiciliary of Bronx County. Irving’s motion in the Orange County case to dismiss the original filing was dismissed with the Court stating that since the Orange County proceeding was filed first, venue would be deemed proper until determined otherwise. Raymond then filed an application in the Bronx Court to dismiss or stay Irving’s filing.
Upon review, the Bronx Surrogate noted that SCPA 205(1) provides that a decedent’s domicile controls the proper venue for estate proceedings. Additionally, the Court found that it was the accepted procedure for the Court where the proceedings were first filed to decide the issue of proper venue. Thus, the Bronx Surrogate decided that the Orange County Surrogate’s Court, which was the place of the first filing, should decide the issues of domicile and venue.
As can be seen from Hayes, even the initial filing of estate proceedings may involve estate litigation and complicated matters concerning Surrogate’s Court procedures. I have represented clients in probate, administration and also guardianship cases for over four (4) decades. Call Me Now for a free confidential review of your 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.