By Jason Stern
As a NY kinship lawyer practicing in Forest Hills, NY I have handled quite a few types of estate cases. One of the most fascinating types of estate cases is the NY kinship case. NY kinship lawyers have to piece the entire family tree of the decedent together through witness testimony and genealogical evidence at a kinship trial. Testimony and genealogical evidence has to be extensively researched and pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle establishing the necessary elements to prove the case through lineage.
Many people pass with a will. The will is then brought to a NY probate lawyer to be filed with the Surrogate’s Court. Otherwise, when someone passes without a will their immediate family has standing to have a NY estate lawyer petition the Surrogate’s Court to become Administrator in their loved one’s estate. Naturally this estate process is called Administration.
But what happens when someone dies without a will or any immediate family? These cases are called kinship cases which become very complicated in a hurry.
When 71 year old James Flavin recently passed away it was thought he left two wills governing the distribution of his humble $50,000.00 estate. Flavin lived in the small, inner city house he had inherited from his parents situated in a low income neighborhood. Flavin wore tattered clothes and drove an old car. Flavin had lived a humble life as an isolated individual with no connection to the world other than to his church.
It was no surprise that when he died his two wills were found leaving his meager inheritance to his church. Flavin had never married nor had any children. The first of the two wills was handwritten, also known as a holographic will, and had not been properly witnessed. The will left everything to his church. Any NY probate lawyer will tell you holographic wills are not accepted in NY and most other jurisdictions as valid instruments. As such, Flavin’s first will was invalid.
Flavin also left behind a copy of a 2008 attorney drafted will leaving 80% of his estate to his church and his remaining estate assets to distant relatives. Any experienced NY probate lawyer can also tell you Flavin’s 2008 copy of his will can not be probated either. NY probate law requires the testator’s original will be produced and filed with the Court at the time of death barring overwhelming proof of fraud or some other “special circumstances”. The Court’s rationale being that if the NY estate lawyer cannot produce the decedent’s original will for probate, it is assumed that the testator who was in possession of the will destroyed it. The act of destroying a will is the same as revoking the will and its contents. To avoid such mishaps, experienced NY estate lawyers will often suggest that clients leave their original will with the NY probate lawyer for safe keeping.
In any event, Mr. Flavin did not leave his original will with his attorney and thus died intestate without a will and without any immediate family. In NY kinship cases, the Public Administrator is appointed in the NY estate to determine who the decedent’s next of kin are so that they can marshal and distribute the decedent’s assets accordingly. While marshaling James Flavin’s assets, the Public Administrator soon found that the meager $50,000.00 estate was actually a $3.5 million dollar estate after significant stock certificates were found in the decedent’s safety deposit box. In Flavin’s safety deposit box, a $3.5 million portfolio was discovered consisting largely of Walgreens stock.
In the end, James Flavin’s meager $50,000.00 estate which he intended to leave to his local church became a sizable $3.5 million kinship case which will be paid over to his nephew Patrick when he can prove kinship. While challenging, NY kinship cases as you can see above are among the most rewarding for both attorney and client.
Our firm has handled many NY kinship cases just like this one. The decedents are often isolated creatures cut off from the outside world. Normally subjects of NY kinship estates are hoarders with anti- social tendencies which make it difficult for them to maintain relationships with others.
If you think a loved one has died without a will and you may be the distributee of such an estate, call the NY kinship lawyers at the Law Offices of Jason W. Stern & Associates at (718) 261-2444 for a free consultation.
Our NY estate lawyers have over 45 years of combined NY kinship and probate law experience both drafting and probating wills in addition to representing heirs in kinship cases for families like yours in the counties of Queens, New York, Kings, Bronx, Westchester, Rockland, Nassau, Orange, Dutchess as well as in the State of New Jersey.