What Happens When a Co-Executor Dies – Problems with Co-Fiduciaries

Fiduciary-300x185In many instances, there is a possibility that co-fiduciaries may be appointed to represent an estate.  Let’s begin by examining intestate administration.  When a decedent dies without a Last Will and Testament, the appointment of an estate administrator is determined in accordance with Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act Section 1001 entitled “Order of priority for granting letters of administration.”  This statute provides that letters of administration are to be granted to family members with priority to a surviving spouse, and then children, and then other more distant relatives.

In particular, since a decedent may have many children, there is a real likelihood that more than one child may wish to serve as administrator.  It is not uncommon in these instances for litigation to occur in the Surrogate’s Court with competing petitions for appointment.  Many times, a matter ends up being resolved with the appointment of co-administrators.

When a decedent leaves a Last Will, the provisions of the document may contain the nomination of co-executors.  Unless one of the named parties declines or is unable to act, the Surrogate’s Court will appoint co-executors to administer and settle the estate.

The appointment of multiple executors or administrators to handle estate affairs can present problems regarding estate administration.  Among the most obvious issues are roadblocks which can occur if the co-fiduciaries do not agree as to various matters.  For example, if an estate contains real estate or other property such as a cooperative apartment which must be sold, the fiduciaries may disagree as to the selection of a real estate broker, or a sales price.  These types of disputes can paralyze the orderly running of estate affairs.

Additionally, disputes between administrators or executors can present issues for an attorney who is representing both parties in settling the estate.  An attorney for both, generally, may not advocate for one fiduciary against the interests of the other fiduciary.

Another issue which may arise is the death of one of the fiduciaries.  Both the remaining fiduciary and third parties may be in a quandary as to the effect the death has on the surviving estate representatives.  This situation was the subject of a recent Queens estate case entitled In the Estate of Anthony Federico, decided by Queens Surrogate Peter J. Kelley on February 23, 2024.

In Federico, the Court had issued co-letters testamentary to two individuals.  Thereafter, one of the two appointees died.  When the sole surviving executor sought to sell estate property, the title company insisted that the Court issue new letters solely to the survivor.  A petition was filed with the Court to remove the name of the deceased executor and to issue new letters solely in the name of the survivor.

The Surrogate refused to entertain the petition.  The Court pointed to SCPA 706 entitled “When surviving or remaining fiduciary may act; when successor must be appointed,” which specifically allows the remaining fiduciary to complete his duties.  In his decision, the Surrogate had harsh commentary regarding this issue, stating that the Court refused “to process an unnecessary proceeding simply to accommodate counsel’s involuntary role as puppet in this title company’s marionette show.”  As to the title company, the Court stated that if the title company failed to recognize the authenticity of the remaining executor, such conduct “may lead to appropriate sanctions.”

As can be seen from Federico, situations with multiple fiduciaries and Surrogate’s Court litigation can be complicated.  The assistance of an experienced estate lawyer can be essential.  If you have a question regarding an estate, Call Me Now for a free confidential review of your estate matter.  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.

Contact Information