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Court Hears Four Guardianship Proceedings


This case is being heard in the Second Department, Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of the State of New York. The case involves the respondent, Alice A. Amrhein and the appellant Ernest L. Signorelli. In this case the Commissioner of Social Services of the County of Suffolk is challenging the authority of the Surrogate to order her or the Department of Social Services of Suffolk County to conduct investigations including home studies and criminal checks of petitioners in guardianship proceedings that are brought in front of the Surrogate’s Court.

Case Background

The facts of this case involve 4 different guardianship proceedings. The first matter involves the Robinsons, who are the maternal aunt and uncle of a then fifteen year old girl who sought guardianship after the death of the girl’s parents.

The second case involves the Russo’s who are the maternal grandparents of two infants who were nine and 15 years old. The grandparents sought the appointment of guardianship after the death of their last surviving parent. In this case, the will named the grandparents as guardians, but it was unclear whether the will had been admitted to probate at the time of the petition for guardianship.

A New York Probate Lawyer said the third case involves the Pirraglia’s who is the sister of a then twelve year old and sought to be guardian of the child’s person and property pursuant to the terms of the will from her last surviving parent. The will had been admitted for probate at the time the guardianship petition was filed.

The final case involves the Leonard’s, who is the maternal grandmother of a nine year old and sought appointment of the child after the child’s mother was murdered and her father was put in prison, charged with the murder. The will of the mother did not provide guardianship of the infant.

Case Discussion

In all of these cases the infants in question were living with the petitioners at the time the guardianship petitions were filed. Manhattan Probate Lawyers said all of the other relatives in the cases agreed to the appointments. In each of the cases the Department of Social Services of Suffolk County received citations to show cause as to why the petitioners should not be granted custody. The DSS neither objected nor endorsed the petitioners.

The Surrogate court then issued direction to the DSS to conduct a complete investigation of each application, including home studies of the petitioners. This action was commenced by the Commissioner of Social Services of Suffolk County stating that the orders made by the Surrogate Court exceeded their powers.

Case Decision

When reviewing the facts of the case it is found that the Surrogate court does not have the right to conduct investigations of petitioners. Bronx Probate Lawyers said this includes ordering home studies, criminal checks, among other things when the petitioners are relatives within the third degree and the child has not been abandoned within the meaning of Social Services Law section 371.

For this reason, the court orders the judgment reversed without cost or disbursements. The actions are converted to declaratory judgments.

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