Can First Cousins Inherit in NYC?
In New York City, if a person dies without a Will, New York’s intestacy laws found in EPTL 4-1.1 will determine how the estate will be distributed. One question that may arise in such a situation is whether first cousins inherit in NYC when there is no will.
Pursuant to EPTL 4-1.1, if the decedent has no surviving spouse or children, their estate will be distributed to their parents, if living. If the decedent’s parents are deceased, then their estate will be distributed equally among their siblings. If the decedent had no surviving siblings, their estate would pass to their grandparents, if any are living. If the grandparents are deceased, then their estate will pass to their aunts and uncles. If there are no surviving aunts or uncles, then their estate will pass to their first cousins.
Typically first cousins cannot serve as the Administrator of the Estate pursuant to EPTL 1001(1)(f)(ii) which clearly provides that:
If the distributees are issue of grandparents (eg: cousins), other than aunts and or uncles, on only side, then letters of Administration shall issue to the public administrator of chief financial officer of the county.
Thus, in cases where the Decedent dies without a will and has no surviving family members to inherit their estate closer than cousins, the Public Administrator will typically serve as the Administrator of the estate. The Public Administrator is a government official who is responsible for managing the estate and distributing the assets to the decedent’s legal heirs, including first cousins if they are determined to be the legal heirs.
How then Do the First Cousins Inherit in NYC?
After the Public Administrator has administered the estate, which means liquidating the assets and paying all the bills, the Public Administrator will then file a Petition for Judicial Settlement of its Account. In the Petition, the Public Administrator will list as “ALLEGED” all of the known first cousins. If you are a cousin, you should contact the Public Administrator’s office and advise them that you are a cousin so that your name can be added to the Petition.
After the Accounting is filed, the Court will issue a Citation. The Citation, in addition to being served on all known alleged cousins, will also be published in a newspaper.
How Can First Cousins Inherit If They Are Now Aware the Decedent Died?
Once the Petition has been filed, there are typically heir searchers that comb through the Court files to see what new Accounting Petitions have been filed with the Court. If the value of the estate is greater than $500,000, typically the heir searchers will then conduct their own searches to try to find the Cousins. The heir searchers will then try to negotiate a deal with the Cousins where they will do all the work and they will get a percentage of the cousins’ share if they recover money. Although the heir searchers are good and they typically work with experienced kinship lawyers, you can, if interested, sometimes get more money by privately retaining your own attorney, or, by grouping with some of your siblings to privately retain your own attorney.
Objections Must Be Filed to Inherit
If you are a cousin, then you must file objections to the Accounting. In order to object, you prepare Verified Objections and file them with the Court. You will also pay a $75 filing fee for the objections. In the objections, you will state that you are objecting to the word “Alleged” and that you are in fact a cousin and you will ask for the Court to set the matter down for a kinship hearing.
What is a Kinship Proceeding?
Kinship proceedings are a legal process that determine who the legal heirs of the decedent are. In kinship proceedings, the Surrogate’s Court will consider evidence of the decedent’s family history, including birth, death, and marriage records, to determine who the decedent’s legal heirs are. Technically the rule is that you have one year from the return date of Citation to prove kinship. Certain counties have relaxed this rule. Be sure to ask about your counties local rules so you know how quickly you must get prepared.
Click Here for a Detailed Post about how First Cousins Inherit in NYC by Proving Kinship in NYC
If the Surrogate’s Court determines that the first cousins are the legal heirs of the Decedent, they will be entitled to a share of the estate. However, the amount they receive will depend on how much of the estate is left after any debts, taxes, and other expenses are paid.
Do First Cousins Inherit if Kinship is Not Proven?
If Kinship is not proven can a First Cousin Inherit anyway? The answer is maybe. If kinship is not proven, then the money will be put on deposit with either the Commissioner of Finance or the New York State Comptroller’s office. You will then need to commence a Withdrawal Proceeding in order to secure the funds.
Typically a person commences a withdrawal proceeding if they have gathered new or additional documentary evidence to prove that they are in fact related to the Decedent. Unlike a kinship proceeding where you have one year, in a withdrawal proceeding, you have six months so it is important to line up all of your materials before you file the withdrawal proceeding.
It’s important to note that kinship proceedings and estate administration can be complex and time-consuming, and it’s always a good idea to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney to understand your legal options and ensure that your assets are distributed according to your wishes.
In conclusion, if someone dies without a will in New York City and has no surviving spouse, children, siblings, aunts, uncles, or grandparents, their first cousins may inherit their estate. However, if there are living aunts, uncles, or grandparents, the cousins may need to file a petition for kinship proceedings in the Surrogate’s Court to establish their legal entitlement to a share of the estate, and the public administrator may serve as the administrator of the estate.
For more information, please contact Estate Litigation, Guardianship, Probate and Estate Planning attorney Regina Kiperman:
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