In In re the Estate of Cridland, the administratrix of the estate, the decedent’s sister, sought to remove the restrictions from her limited letters of administration so that she could collect settlement proceeds from an action related to the death of the decedent, allocate the entire recovery to the personal injury causes of action, and judicially account for the proceeds.
In New York, before an individual or entity has the legal authority as the personal representative (personal representative, executor, administrator) to act on behalf of the estate of a decedent, they must petition the Surrogate’s Court and the court must issue them a court order called “letters.” There are several types of letters. Letters testamentary are issued if the petitioner was named in the decedent’s will to serve as executor. Letters of administration are issued if the decedent did not have a will. When letters testamentary or letters of administration, the personal representative typically has general authority to take actions necessary to settle the decedent’s estate.
Limited Letters of Administration are a type of letters issued by the court that allow the person to perform very limited and specific functions that are the best interests of the estate, such as commencing a lawsuit. Pursuant to SCPA 702, limited letters make be issued under the following circumstances:
- To enforce or prosecute a cause of action in favor of the decedent or his fiduciary or to defend any claim action against a decedent or his fiduciary.
- Where it is not feasible to give a bond in the full amount required by statute..
- To adjust, settle, satisfy, or discharge of any claim in favor of or against the decedent or the fiduciary.
- To the perform any act required in order to discharge the estate of a decedent from liability.
- To represent the estate in a transaction in which the fiduciary could not or should not act because of conflict of interest.
- For any other purpose deemed by the court to be appropriate or necessary to protect the estate
While she was riding her bike, the decedent was struck by a car. She died intestate on March 28, 2010. The decedent’s sister applied for and was granted limited letters of administration to pursue a lawsuit related to the accident. A settlement was reached. Her sole distributee is her son. New York State paid for the decedent’s funeral services and burial.
The administrator requested that the court remove restrictions on her letters of administration removed so that she could do three things:
- Collect settlement proceeds
- Allocate the entire amount of the proceeds from the settlement to the personal injury causes of action
- Judicially account for the proceeds
The court determined that it would remove the restrictions on the limited letters of administration, but only so that she could collect the settlement proceeds and pay counsel fees and disbursements as well as funeral expenses.
The court could not remove restrictions on the limited letters of administration for the other two reasons requested by the petitioner because 7 months had the passed since the date of the issuance of limited letters of administration. Under SCPA 2208(1)(a), a fiduciary may request their account to be judicially settled only if 7 months have expired since letters were issued.