In New York, a personal representative is a person who is appointed by the Surrogate’s Court to manage the affairs of a deceased person’s estate. This individual is responsible for handling the deceased’s assets, paying debts, and distributing the remaining assets to the heirs or beneficiaries of the estate. The personal representative can either be an executor, named in the deceased’s will, or an administrator, appointed by the court if no will exists. The personal representative has a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of the estate and its beneficiaries.
Kathleen McCarthy was a resident of New York and died in March 2019, without leaving a will. She was survived by her husband, Thomas McCarthy, and her two adult children, Brendan and Shannon McCarthy. The value of her estate was approximately $1.4 million.
Kathleen’s husband, Thomas, filed a petition for letters of administration in Surrogate’s Court, seeking to be appointed as the administrator of his wife’s estate. However, Kathleen’s children, Brendan and Shannon, opposed the petition and argued that they should be appointed as the co-administrators of their mother’s estate.
The main legal issue in the case was whether Thomas was disqualified from serving as the administrator of Kathleen’s estate because of his criminal history. Thomas had previously been convicted of a felony and had served time in prison.
At the time of this case, New York law provided that a person is disqualified from serving as the administrator of an estate if they have been convicted of a felony or other serious crimes. N.Y. Surr. Ct. Proc. Act § 707. The law provides that the Surrogate’s Court may exercise discretion in allowing a convicted felon to serve as the administrator if the person can demonstrate that they have been rehabilitated and are fit to serve.
The court analyzed the legal issue of Thomas’s criminal history and determined that he was not disqualified from serving as the administrator of Kathleen’s estate. The court noted that Thomas had completed his sentence and had not been convicted of any crimes since his release from prison. The court also considered evidence of Thomas’s rehabilitation, including his involvement in community service activities and his successful business career. Based on these factors, the court found that Thomas had demonstrated that he was fit to serve as the administrator of Kathleen’s estate.
The court also addressed the issue of who should be appointed as the co-administrator of the estate. The court found that Brendan and Shannon were both qualified to serve as co-administrators of their mother’s estate. The court noted that both children had expressed a willingness to work together and had a good relationship with each other. The court found that appointing Brendan and Shannon as co-administrators would be in the best interests of the estate.
The court ultimately granted the petition for letters of administration to both Thomas and Brendan and Shannon as co-administrators of Kathleen’s estate. The court noted that the appointment of Thomas as the administrator did not undermine the best interests of the estate, as the children would also be serving as co-administrators.
The Matter of the Estate of McCarthy case highlights the importance of having a will in place to avoid disputes among family members and to ensure that one’s wishes are carried out after their death. The case also shows that the application of intestacy laws can be complex and can be influenced by a variety of factors, including a person’s criminal history and their relationship with other family members.
Overall, the case serves as a reminder that it is important to seek the guidance of an experienced New York estate planning attorney to ensure that one’s wishes are carried out after their death and that any potential disputes among family members are minimized.
Note that New York changed the law related to who can serve as a personal representative. The court as the discretion to disqualify a convicted felon, but the disqualification is not automatic. N.Y. Surr. Ct. Proc. Act Law § 707