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What is a NY kinship estate? Estate of Eugene Brown

1
May

By Jason Stern

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What is a NY kinship estate? Estate of Eugene Brown

As a Queens NY estate lawyer with more than two decades of estate litigation experience, no cases to me are as fascinating  as NY kinship estate matters.  These NY kinship estate cases have all the elements of a juicy mystery novel for Queens estate lawyers handling these complex cases.  The NY estate law dictates that when an individual passes away without both a will and identifiable heirs, also known as next of kin, the Office of the Public Administrator is charged with administering the proceeds of the decedent’s NYC estate.  In fact, pursuant to §1123 of the NY estate law, every Public Administrator shall have all the powers specifically granted to a fiduciary of an estate by law.  As such, the powers designated to the Public Administrator have the same force and effect as the powers an executor would have if he or she was the nominated fiduciary within a will. In other words, when someone passes without a will, and identifiable relatives, the Public Administrator will step up as the de facto fiduciary of the NYC estate to protect the unknown heirs of the NY estate that have not yet been identified.  

While NY kinship estates are not common they do occur with some frequency within the Surrogate’s Courts of NY.  Most decedents in these NYC estates who pass without a NY will, leaving behind neither spouse nor children, parents nor siblings, more likely than not turn out to be loners possessing few attachments to the outside world.  In such instances, investigators with the Public Administrators offices are often among the first to enter the decedent’s premises.  Frequently the solitary nature of kinship decedents lend themselves to hoarding requiring investigators to wear hazmat suits upon entering these dwellings.  In fact, as Queens estate lawyers, our firm handled a NY kinship estate where the decedent’s hoarding habits had become so bad, the medical examiner believed the decedent suffocated to death beneath a stack of her own newspapers collected in trash bags over decades of hoarding.  

In NY kinship proceedings claimants have the burden of proving kinship to the decedent and must establish that they are the decedent’s closest surviving blood relatives as defined within NY estate law.  As such for NY kinship to be established, claimants must make an evidentiary showing how each claimant is related to the decedent and that no other persons of the same or nearer degree of relationship survived the decedent. Upon such proof presented in admissible form to the satisfaction of the Surrogate’s Court, can the class of heirs be closed and the NY kinship estate be distributed.  One who seeks to establish an interest within a NY kinship estate must have their Queens estate lawyer prove that all lines of descent which would precede their own are exhausted.  In other words for a cousin to inherit from such a NY kinship estate they would be required to account for all closer heirs in relation to the decedent including parents, siblings, spouses and children as per Matter of Horvath. Unfortunately, If the NY estate lawyer is unsuccessful in proving kinship the funds are deposited with the NYS Office of the Comptroller.

Estate of Eugene Brown

Eugene Brown lived a solitary life alone within the confines of his 800 square foot home with very few connections to the outside world.  Having never married nor had children, by all accounts the 78 year old veteran lived like a hermit up until his 2015 death.  For two weeks Brown’s body lay on the floor of his modest home, his death ruled the result of a massive stroke by the coroner’s office.  Brown’s body could have gone unnoticed even longer but for his perceptive mail carrier who became concerned and alerted the authorities when she failed to see him as she customarily had.    Once police removed Brown’s remains from his residence and having failed to find a will, police alerted the Public Administrator’s office.  

Upon entering Eugene Brown’s modest home, investigator’s for the Public Administrator’s offices found the highly decorated veteran’s home to be quite bare. Among possessions of Eugene Brown were nothing more than old photographs, folding chairs, transistor radios and a 1984 Ford pick up truck.  Perhaps what was most remarkable about Eugene Brown’s home was what was not among his possessions such as a computer, cell phone, television, stereo or any other type of creature comfort we normally take for granted.  Even more remarkable was Brown’s furniture or lack thereof. Within Brown’s residence was neither a couch, sofa, arm chair or even a bed.  A quick glance into Eugene Brown’s bedroom revealed the man slept in a sleeping bag his entire life.  In the second bedroom was nothing more than a metal filing cabinet.  However once opened the filing cabinet would reveal there was more to Eugene Brown than anyone would have thought, a lot more.  Within Brown’s filing cabinet his entire life was revealed including his time in the military, merchant marines and his brokerage account statements, all $3 million dollars’ worth of them.  

The next step for the Public Administrator’s office was to reach out to Brown’s broker at Merrill Lynch.  Investigators then informed Brown’s account manager of his passing and that he had no will nor identifiable heirs and that the proceeds of his $ 3 million estate would become a kinship estate.  Once Brown’s heirs were identified and could prove their status as heirs they would petition the court to receive the proceeds of his kinship estate.  Brown’s broker informed investigators with the Public Administrator’s offices that Eugene Brown was devout Catholic and would have wanted the proceeds of his kinship estate to be distributed to the church.  

It was at this point investigators informed Brown’s broker that as luck would have it they in fact found the unexecuted paperwork for a beneficiary designation, dated four days before his death, in Brown’s home designating the church as the beneficiary of Brown’s accounts.  Investigators also found a pamphlet from a Catholic Organization instructing Brown how to draft his own will within the home.  However since none of the paperwork was ever signed, the proceeds of the kinship estate would be distributed to Brown’s next of kin, whoever they may be.   

Within months of the passing of Eugene Brown, nieces and nephews of Brown’s pre-deceased sister retained a kinship lawyer in this matter to claim the  proceeds of his kinship estate. Each of the four heirs would eventually prove their status as heirs, recovering approximately $500,000.00 each.  In such NY kinship estates, absent a successful showing made by NY estate lawyers on behalf of their clients, said funds are automatically deposited with the Comptroller’s Office for the State of New York.  As such, Queens estate lawyers serve a valuable function, preventing vast amounts of estate assets from being placed in the equivalent of financial purgatory for all eternity.  

While having NY will is always preferable, as a New York Kinship Lawyer, our services are often retained when one does not exist. If you or a loved one are the distributee of someone who died without a will and in need of legal counseling from an experienced New York Kinship Lawyer, please call one of our Estate Lawyers at the Law Offices of Jason W. Stern & Associates at (718) 261-2444 for a free consultation.  Our Queens estate lawyers have over 60 years of combined NY estate law experience handling these often treacherous NY kinship 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.

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