By Jason Stern
As a NY estate lawyer with two decades of NY estate litigation experience I am often confronted with several different types of NY estate law issues requiring complex litigation. While most of us think about dramatic NY will contests as the classic type of NY estate case there are several other types of NY estate litigation that are just as important but not often heard of. Often overlooked is the lesser known but equally as important and sometimes as dramatic NY compulsory accounting case. Unlike NY will contest cases, NY estate accounting cases occur AFTER a NY will has been probated and a fiduciary is appointed. Normally, once a will has been probated in a NYC estate, Letters Testamentary issue to the executor named in the will granting the nominated fiduciary the implicit authority to act on behalf of the NYC estate.
However, after a statutory period of time, each interested party, also known as beneficiaries, are permitted to demand a compulsory accounting of the fiduciary within the NYC estate. Pursuant to NY estate law, SCPA §2211, each beneficiary is entitled to both written documentary discovery as well as a deposition of the executor. Pursuant to NY estate law, SCPA §2211, the written discovery will customarily include but not be limited to bank account statements, tax returns and business records of the deceased and/or their NY estate The purpose of the document demands is twofold, to both show beneficiaries what the assets of the NY estate are to satisfy their curiosity or if there is evidence of impropriety to provide a meaningful inquiry of the fiduciary at their SCPA §2211 hearing.
Should evidence of the executor’s impropriety within a NY estate come to light in a judicial accounting proceeding, the beneficiaries have the remedies which include personally surcharging the executor for any and all indiscretions, in the form of a money judgment, removal of said executor and in some cases even incarceration.
NY estate of Oleg Cassini
Oleg Cassini was one of the most talented fashion designers of the twentieth century. Based in NYC, Oleg Cassini originally immigrated to America from Paris. The son of titled Russian aristocrats, Cassini’s grandfather served as Russia’s ambassador to Theodore Roosevelt. After the fall of Czarist Russia in 1918, Cassini’s family fled for their lives to Denmark, Switzerland, eventually settling in Paris. From Paris, Oleg Cassini would set out for NYC, arriving Christmas day, 1936. Once Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Cassini enlisted himself into the U.S. Army as an officer where he spent the next 5 years fighting tyranny until the end of the war. Cassini, now an American citizen stripped of all titles and connection to the Russian throne decided to settle in Hollywood California upon his military discharge. Shortly thereafter Cassini befriended his fellow tennis partner, Jack Warner, head of Warner Brothers Studios. Warner hired Cassini to be his head of wardrobe. Before long Cassini launched his own couture fashion line on 5thAvenue dressing both glamorous movie starlets and celebrities alike such as his fiancé Grace Kelly and Jaqueline Kennedy among many, many others.
Cassini whose iconic collections are still manufactured and sold, was married and divorced several times, while managing to amass a sizable $60 million NY estate at the time of his 2006 passing. Most of Cassini’s NYC estate consisted of NYC real estate, including but not limited to his spectacular Gramercy Park townhome where he and his fourth wife Marianne Nestor resided. Cassini’s townhome alone is valued in excess of $15 million dollars.
After Cassini’s passing, wife Marianne Nestor was appointed executor and charged with administering his NYC probate estate. In November of 2011, after suspecting wrongdoing of the executor, NY estate attorneys for Cassini’s grandchildren demanded discovery documents in relation to their NY estate accounting proceeding. The documents demanded of the NY executor, Marianne Nestor, included her personal tax returns, tax returns for the NYC estate from 2006-2010 and appraisal values for any and all of the NYC estate assets. All of which documents Nestor, the NY executor and wife of Oleg Cassini, has yet to provide nearly 8 years after these documents were requested.
As a result NY estate lawyers for Cassini’s heirs recently had the Surrogate Court Judge issue a bench warrant for Nestor’s willful failure to comply with the Court’s Orders in the within NY estate, nearly eight years later. Pursuant to that bench warrant, Cassini’s wife was arrested on her way to the opera for failing to provide said discovery documents in relation to the settlement of the pending NYC estate accounting.
So why wouldn’t an executor account in a NY estate? As an experienced NYC estate lawyer I can think of myriad reasons why a fiduciary would not account including but not limited to not keeping organized NY estate records as required by law. I can also tell you that an executor of a NYC estate may not want to file their accounting or comply with discovery orders if they have stolen proceeds of the NY estate which happens more frequently than you would expect. In this particular NYC estate, Cassini’s wife Marianne Nestor, must sell her $15 million townhome where she has resided for twenty years in order to satisfy the payouts to Cassini’s grandchildren under his will. Rather than selling her Gramercy townhome Nestor chose another path, to simply do nothing. Unfortunately for Nestor, as the executor of Cassini’s NY estate, doing nothing has severe consequences. Nestor has since been removed as fiduciary, incarcerated and will undoubtedly be forced from her prized townhome and made to pay restitution to Cassini’s grandchildren.
Thirteen years after the death of Oleg Cassini his heirs are still trying to be paid out of the proceeds of their grandfather’s estate. As a New York estate accounting lawyer, I cannot stress the value of having an attorney drafted will appointing a responsible executor enough. The best way to handle a NY estate accounting case is to avoid one by having a will with a qualified fiduciary you can rely on. However, if you or a loved one are the beneficiary of an estate with a fiduciary who is mishandling NY estate funds you may need legal counseling from an experienced New York estate lawyer. Feel free to call one of our NYC Estate Lawyers at the Law Offices of Jason W. Stern & Associates at (718) 261-2444 for a free consultation. Our Queens estate lawyers have nearly 60 years of combined NY estate law experience handling these often complicated NY accounting cases for families like yours in the counties of Queens, New York, Kings, Bronx, Westchester, Rockland, Nassau, Richmond, Orange, Dutchess as well as in the State of New Jersey.