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Petitioner Requests Limited Letters of Estate Administration


This is an application for limited letters of temporary estate administration. Decedent executed a will in Ireland which was witnessed by the manager for the United States Lines in Ireland and the American Consul in Cork. Beside a small bequest to a friend, the entire residuary is bequeathed to the decedent’s granddaughter. The will does not name an executor. The decedent’s granddaughter petitions for probate of the will and for letters of administration c. t. a. She makes this motion for limited letters of temporary estate administration so that she can commence an action against the United States Lines before the statute of limitations runs out. This motion is opposed by one of two sisters who are distributees of decedent, on the ground that the wrongful death suit is ‘exclusively for the benefit of the decedent’s wife, husband, parent, child or dependent relative.’ She argues that the decedent’s granddaughter is none of these and that under section 118 of the Surrogate’s Court Act, letters should issue to a distributee, namely, herself, so that she might bring the action against the steamship line.

The applicable federal statute provides that the action shall be maintained by the personal representative of the decedent (Title 46, Sec. 761, U.S.C.A.). Since it appears that the will of decedent is uncontested and that on its probate the decedent’s granddaughter would be entitled to letters of administration c. t. a. as the sole residuary legatee (Surrogate’s Ct. Act, § 133, subd. 2) and would be the person authorized under the federal statute to prosecute the action, the Court will appoint her Temporary Administratrix under Limited Letters, upon qualifying according to law. Upon the will being admitted to probate, the Temporary Letters will be revoked and letters of administration c. t. a. will issue to the decedent’s granddaughter nning. Settle decree on notice.

In another case, a lawyer said that a probate proceeding petitioner claims that under the terms of the propounded instrument she is entitled to decedent’s net estate and to letters testamentary. The respondents have appeared and filed their consent to probate the instrument, but dispute petitioner’s claim. A construction is requested to determine whether the provisions of paragraph ‘Fourth’ are operative and dispose of decedent’s estate.

The instrument is a joint and mutual will of decedent, and her husband. He died first, on April 30, 1958, leaving only jointly owned property, and his will was therefore not probated. She died on December 13, 1958 leaving personal property. By said will each devised and bequeathed to the survivor the entire net estate, but made no alternative disposition in the event he or she predeceased, except as set forth in paragraph ‘Fourth’ of the will. It is therein provided that in the event the deaths of both of them would occur ‘simultaneously or approximately so, or as a result of a common accident or calamity, or under circumstances causing doubt as to which of us survived the other,’ then the entire net estate was devised and bequeathed to the sister of the decedent herein, and in identical eventualities nominated and appointed her executrix ‘of this our joint and mutual will and testament.’

There is no claim that the deaths of husband and wife were the result of or caused by any of the eventualities specifically provided for, nor, as stated, does the will name any devisee or legatee substituting the predeceased husband. The propounded instrument having been validly executed must be admitted to probate. The conditions for the alternate disposition of decedent’s property not have eventuated, since her husband predeceased her, the result is that the property must be distributed as in intestacy.

The petitioner is not entitled to letters testamentary. Her designation as alternate executrix under subdivision ‘b’ of paragraph ‘Fourth’ of the will was to be effective only in the event decedent’s death occurred under the circumstances set forth in subdivision ‘a’ thereof. Since decedent did not die under such circumstances the alternate appointment of petitioner as executrix fails. However, as a distributee petitioner is entitled to appointment as administratrix with the will annexed under subd. 3, Section 133, Surrogate’s Court Act, the respondents being non-resident aliens. Letters will issue to her upon qualifying according to law. Settle decree on notice.

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