By Jason Stern
As a NY estate lawyer with more than two decades drafting, probating and contesting NY wills for New Yorkers I know exactly how important it is to make a properly drafted and executed NY will the benchmark of any NY estate plan. However, it is shocking to know that 63% of Americans, 220,000,000 million, of us still do not have a will. In fact in 2019, more than 1.8 million Americans passed away without a will.
So what is a kinship estate?
The only thing more complicated for a NY estate lawyer than a NY estate case where the decedent passes without a will, is a NY estate where the decedent left behind neither a NY will nor heirs. For instance, if you pass away in NY the NY estate law dictates the line of inheritance. Pursuant to EPTL 4-1.1 of the NY estate law a legal spouse shall inherit the first $50,000.00 of the decedent’s intestate NY estate plus 50% of all testamentary assets. The remaining portion of the decedent’s intestate NY estate, where there is no will, passes to any and all of decedent’s biological or legally adopted children, if any exist. If the decedent is not survived by children then the surviving spouse inherits the entire estate. If the decedent leaves behind only children, then the children would all share in equal portions of the NY estate.
However what happens in instances where the decedent leaves behind neither a NY will, nor a spouse, children, parents, siblings or nieces or nephews? These cases are what is referred to as NY kinship estates. Kathleen Ryan passed away in 2013 leaving behind neither a will, spouse, children, known siblings or nieces or nephews. As such Kathleen Ryan’s estate consisting of a $700,000.00 bank account with no beneficiaries became a kinship estate. As such, the proceeds of the bank account legally become the property of her estate and should thereby pass on to her next of kin, whomever they might be. In this NY kinship estate what happens now?
NY kinship estates normally begin in the medical examiner’s office with either the filing of a notice of death or when nobody claims the remains. The Medical Examiner’s Office will then reach out to notify the Public Administrator’s office of the case. Once notified the quasi-governmental office of the public administrator begins marshalling the decedent’s assets and administering their estate. Customarily these NY kinship estates involve distant relatives, and are often referred to as cousins cases, if none exist, the unclaimed inheritance will even skip down to the next generation to first cousins once removed.
Once NY estate assets are marshalled the public administrator will then file their accounting in the NY estate matter. The proceeds of the unclaimed NY kinship estate, or cousins case, is then made known to potential heirs who will have the opportunity to hire a NY kinship estate lawyer to claim their portion of the NY kinship estate. If their NY kinship lawyer is successful, the distant heirs will receive their portion of the NY kinship estate. However, if unsuccessful the proceeds of the NY kinship estate are paid into the NYS Department of Finance until an heir comes forward to successfully claim the NY kinship estate.
In the Estate of Kathleen Ryan, NY kinship estate lawyers believe but have been unable to prove that decedent Kathleen Ryan had an aunt, Lizzie Ryan who immigrated to New York City. If Lizzie Ryan had any children or grandchildren who survived Kathleen they would step up to inherit as either cousins or cousins once removed of the decedent. However up until now, seven years later, no heirs have been found or have come forward in this matter.
As a New York kinship lawyer, I cannot stress the value of having an attorney drafted will enough. The best way to handle a kinship case is to avoid one by having a NY will. However, if you or a loved one are the distributee of someone who died without a will and need 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 NY estate lawyers have more than 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.