When a person dies without a will or the will is found to be invalid under New York law, the person (the decedent) is said to have died intestate (without a will). Any assets which were held in the decedent’s sole name at the time of death must be distributed in accordance with New York Intestate Laws. This can be problematic when there are no close family members such as a surviving spouse, children, grandchildren, parents or siblings because the Court-appointed administrator doesn’t know who to distribute the estate assets to, unless a distant family member comes forward.
Matters deciding who the decedent’s next of kin are often left up to the New York Surrogate’s Court to decide. This decision may not be in accordance with what the decedent had intended. However, the heir must legally prove that they are related to the decedent before the administrator is allowed to transfer any of the decedent’s assets. If no heirs are found, a decedent’s assets could end up being transferred to the State of New York.
An heir claiming a relationship to the decedent must file what is called a “kinship proceeding” with the New York Surrogate’s Court. Any heir can file a kinship proceeding, even a distant cousin. Typically, kinship proceedings in New York involve an aunt, uncle or cousins or more than one extended family member. Kinship proceedings can be quite interesting and at the same time complicated.
The term “family feud” may be fitting when it comes to kinship proceedings. Disagreements over inheritances and money may arise among extended family members whether the estate is large or small. It’s human nature. People “coming out of the woodwork” who are not even related to the decedent may come forward claiming they are relatives, especially in large estates involving celebrities. Fortunately, the decedent’s assets are protected by the court because the court has the authority and jurisdiction to make the final determination regarding the distribution of the estate assets.
At the kinship hearing, the relative/heir must prove their lineage (blood relationship to the decedent). Sometimes it is necessary for the heir to hire a genealogical expert to produce a family tree. Family trees can reveal some fascinating family history and stories and often bring families together who have lost track of each other or bring people together had no idea they were related. People have been surprised to find out that their lineage traces back to royalty or other famous people.
Other evidence that may need to be presented at the kinship hearing includes:
- Certified copies of birth and death certificates
- Divorce degrees
- Social security records
- Testimony of friends and expert witnesses
- Scientific evidence such as DNA
The court will consider all the evidence presented during the kinship proceedings before making a ruling and establishing an heir’s right to inherit the decedent’s property. After all debts and claims have been paid, the administrator can then transfer the assets and close the estate.
Benefits of Hiring a NY Estate Attorney
Often times, heirs will hire a probate or estate attorney to represent them at the kinship hearing. These matters are usually complex and having the proper legal representation can be beneficial in ensuring a more favorable outcome of the matter for the heir. Since an heir may only get one opportunity to make a claim to the estate assets, it is important that the matter is handled properly. The attorney can also be of assistance with other estate and estate tax matters as well.
When you need assistance with a kinship matter or other probate or estate matter, Saint Pre Law Firm is the best place to ask for advice. Give us a call – we will help.