The essence of administering any estate begins with the appointment of an estate fiduciary. Estate settlement cannot occur without a party who is legally authorized to act. There are many variables which come into play regarding fiduciary appointment.
In some cases, the decedent left a Last Will and Testament. This document typically names a person who is to be appointed as the executor. There may be designations of successor or alternate executors, as well. When a person dies intestate, without a Will, the provisions of Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act Section 1001 entitled “Order of priority for granting letters of administration,” sets forth the individuals who have the priority right for appointment as an estate administrator. In the vast majority of matters, there is someone who is either designated in a Will or otherwise has a right pursuant to the estate statutes to be appointed, who will petition the Surrogate’s Court for the authority to act as the estate fiduciary. In fact, it is not uncommon for there to be estate litigation among competing parties for appointment. These disputes can be based upon claims that the applicant is unfit or unqualified for appointment or that there are competing documents which the Court should consider in making the appointment.
Once in a while, there are estates where there is no one either qualified, authorized or willing to step forward to initiate estate settlement proceedings. These matters typically occur where the decedent did not leave a Will and there are no known next of kin who have the authority to commence a proceeding for the appointment of a fiduciary. There may also be situations where all of the named parties in a Will are deceased or their whereabouts are unknown. The usual result in these cases is that a Public Administrator is notified. A Public Administrator is a county official whose role is to administer estates where there is no one either qualified or willing to do so. The Public Administrator engages its own attorneys who handle the proceedings in the Surrogate’s Court.
There are situations where a Public Administrator is required to act as the estate fiduciary. When a person dies intestate and the closest living next of kin is a cousin or more distant relative, the Surrogate would ordinarily appoint the Public Administrator as set forth in SCPA 1001.
There are also times when an estate creditor or claimant wants to pursue a claim against a decedent and no estate has been established. The creditor can commence a proceeding in the Court and ask that the Public Administrator be appointed.
I have represented clients in probate and administration cases involving the Public Administrator and also where there are disputes as to who should be appointed as the proper estate fiduciary. 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.