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1. What are Common Words or Terms I Should Know?
- A "decedent" is a person who has died.
- An "estate" consists of all of the property of a decedent.
- The "Surrogate's Court" is the court in New York state that, among other things, oversees the estates of decedents. In other states, this court may be known as the Probate Court. Each county in the State of New York has its own Surrogate's Court. The Richmond County Surrogate's Court is responsible for the estate of any person who died while domiciled in Richmond County.
- "Domicile" is the permanent place where a decedent resided. If a decedent was temporarily located elsewhere, or had more than one residence, the domicile is that place where the decedent intended to return.
- A "fiduciary" (also known as a "personal representative") is a person who has been appointed by the Richmond County Surrogate's Court to administer the estate of a decedent. A fiduciary acts like a "manager" of the estate, collecting the decedent's assets, paying bills and expenses, and distributing the decedent's remaining property to his heirs or to the persons named in the Will. A fiduciary is called an "executor," if he or she is acting under the terms of a Will. A fiduciary appointed to administer the estate of a decedent who had no Will is called an "administrator."
- "Probate" refers to the process by which a decedent's Will is recognized as valid by the Surrogate's Court. When the Surrogate's Court determines that a Will is valid, it "admits the Will to probate" and usually appoints the executor designated by the decedent in the Will to administer the estate.
- "Intestacy" refers to the situation in which a person dies without a Will, or dies with a Will that for various reasons is denied probate (that is, the Will is not recognized as valid by the Surrogate's Court). Where no Will is admitted to probate, the Court will appoint an administrator to administer the estate.
- A "distributee" is any person entitled to take or share in the property of a decedent, if the decedent did not have a valid Will (that is, the decedent died "intestate"). Distributees also are called "heirs." Rules set forth under New York statutes establish who are the distributees of a decedent. Distributees can only be a decedent's blood relatives or persons adopted into the decedent's family. To be a distributee, you must be in the category of persons closest in blood relationship to the decedent (in the order defined by New York law). Anyone more remote in their relationship to the decedent than first cousin once removed cannot be a distributee under New York law. (For example, second cousins cannot be distributees.)
2. What is the Office of the Public Administrator?
- The Public Administrator is an agency of the City of New York. Each of the boroughs in the City of New York has its own Office of the Public Administrator. The Richmond County Public Administrator handles the estates of Richmond County residents who die without a will and no one else is eligible or willing to administer the estate.
- The Public Administrators operate their offices and administer estates in accordance with the guidelines and procedures adopted by the Administrative Board for the Offices of Public Administrators. The Administrative Board, comprised of thirteen (13) judges and attorneys, is authorized to act by Section 1128 of the Surrogate's Court Procedure Act.
- The Public Administrator applies to be the administrator and serves as fiduciary to collect and distribute the assets of the estates of deceased Staten Island residents.
- The Office will administer an estate where no one else wants to or is able to do so. The most common scenarios in which the Public Administrator will administer a decedent's estate are as follows:
- Decedent died without a Will, and there are no known distributees;
- Decedent died without a Will, and the distributees are too far down the blood line to qualify;
- Decedent died without a Will, and the distributees are not able or willing to serve, or are disqualified from serving; and
- Decedent dies with a Will, but the nominated executor(s) is unwilling or unable to serve. The Surrogate's Court appoints the Public Administrator to administer the estate in accordance with decedent's wishes under the Will.
3. Has the Police Department or the Public Administrator Sealed the Staten Island Residence of your Family Member or Tenant?
If so, ask yourself the following three questions:
- Are you an heir of the decedent (related to the decedent by blood or marriage)?
- Are you named in the decedent's will (as an executor or beneficiary)?
- Is there at least one family member of the decedent, related by blood or marriage,who is willing and able to administer the estate?
If you answered "NO" to each of the three above questions, then contact the Richmond County Public Administrator.
A representative will help you complete a Report of Death, and then help you access the sealed premises.
NOTE: You must FIRST contact the Public Administrator BEFORE breaking the seal or entering the decedent's premises.
Breaking the seal and/or entering the decedent's premises without the Public Administrator's permission is a crime.
Failure to abide by the law in this regard may subject you to criminal and/or civil penalties.
If you are an heir of the decedent (related by blood or marriage), or if you are named in the decedent's will,
as an executor or beneficiary, then you must contact the Surrogate Court BEFORE breaking the seal or entering
the decedent's premises. Similarly, if there is a family member of the decedent, related by blood or marriage,
who is willing and able to administer the estate, that person must contact the Surrogate Court BEFORE the seal
may be broken, or the decedent's premises entered.
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4. How Does a Person Get Appointed as a Fiduciary by the Surrogate's Court?
You must file a document called a "Petition," along with other documents, as required by law. If the total assets to be administered are less than $30,000, the estate may qualify to be administered as a "Small Estate." Special simplified procedures govern the administration of Small Estates, and can be found in Article 13 of the Surrogate's Court Procedure Act. If the total estate assets are more than $30,000, the procedures are a bit more complicated. You may wish to consult an attorney, although one is not required. Only persons appointed as a fiduciary by the Surrogate's Court are authorized to act as the fiduciary of an estate. The Richmond County Surrogate Court is located at 18 Richmond Terrace, Staten Island, NY 10301.
5. How Does the Public Administrator First Receive Notice of an Estate? How Can I Report a Death to the Public Administrator?
The Public Administrator receives notice of an estate in various ways:
- If a person dies in a hospital or care facility with no known next of kin, the hospital or care facility is required under Surrogate's Court Procedure Act Section 1113 to notify the Public Administrator.
- The Medical Examiner of the City of New York will notify the Public Administrator if any individual in the morgue has not been claimed by the next of kin for burial within 30 days.
- The director of a funeral home is required under Surrogate's Court Procedure Act Section 1113 to notify the Public Administrator of the death of a person with no known next of kin.
- A Report of Death is filed with the Public Administrator. The Report of Death may be completed by any person (including a friend, relative or creditor) who wishes to notify the Public Administrator of the death of a decedent. Typically, the person completing the Report of Death believes that there is no one other than the Public Administrator available or willing to act as the fiduciary of the decedent's estate.
6. What Are the Responsibilities Of the Public Administrator?
- Location of Beneficiaries and Heirs:
- When it appears that no one with a higher authority is acting to handle a decedent's estate, it is the duty of the Public Administrator to make a diligent search for a Will and the names and addresses of heirs. If a Will is found, the named executor is notified.
- If no Will is found, then the Public Administrator will give notice to known distributees of the decedent to determine whether they are willing or able to handle the estate. If there are no heirs or the heirs are unable or unwilling to act, the Public Administrator may handle the disposition of the estate.
- Possession of Assets: If no personal representative has been appointed, the Public Administrator has the responsibility to take prompt possession or control of the property of a decedent. All assets of a decedent's estate are brought under the control of the Public Administrator.
- Payment of Debts: The Public Administrator will identify the debts of each estate and provide a Claim Against Estate form to all known creditors. A completed Claim Against Estate form must be submitted to this office, with supporting documentation, before a payment can be authorized.
- Distribution of Assets: The Public Administrator must attempt to distribute the assets of an estate to those who are entitled to inherit them. When there is no Will, the proper order of those persons who are entitled to inherit an estate's assets is listed in the Estates Powers and Trust Laws Section 4-1.1.
- After all assets are collected and the expenses of administration and valid debts and claims are paid, the Public Administrator will file an accounting with the Richmond County Surrogate's Court. The accounting is a document that reflects the actions taken by the Public Administrator on behalf of the estate. It details all funds collected and paid out. Persons with an interest in the estate, including distributees and claimants, are given notice of the accounting. The balance of the estate will be paid to the distributees (i.e., heirs) of the decedent, as determined by the Surrogate's Court in the accounting proceeding. Once the estate has been distributed, the Public Administrator is discharged as the fiduciary.
7. How Can I File a Claim Against an Estate Being Administered by the Public Administrator?
You must complete and file a verified Claim Against Estate form that must be properly notarized. The Claim Affidavit Form must be accompanied by sufficient documentation supporting the claim.
8. What Can I Do If I was the Decedent's Landlord?
If the decedent lived in a rental apartment, the landlord may file a Report of Death with the Public Administrator. If there are no known next of kin, then the Public Administrator will inventory the apartment, take any property of value, and release the apartment to the landlord. If there are known next of kin, the Public Administrator has no jurisdiction over the matter, unless reasonable time has passed and the next of kin has not taken any steps to become the fiduciary of the estate.
9. Decedent property vouchered by NYPD Property Clerk
If you paid for the funeral expenses of the estate, you are entitled to reimbursement under New York State Surrogate's Court Procedure Act, Article 18, Section 1811, No. 1. You may claim the vouchered property as reimbursement for funeral expenses. The value of the vouchered property must not exceed the sum of the funeral bill. To claim property, you must submit the following:
- NYPD Property Clerk Invoice(s)
- Decedent's Death Certificate
- Photo Identification
- Funeral Bill for the decedent, endorsed "Paid in Full"
10. Categories of Estates Handled by the Public Administrator
- Estates not exceeding $30,000.00 in value: The Public Administrator may act without Court authorization to marshal and distribute the assets of these estates, pursuant to Surrogate's Court Procedure Act, Article 1115
- Estates valued at $30,000.01 and above: The Public Administrator may act after receiving Letters of Administration.
11. Does the Public Administrator receive a fee for its services?
Yes. The Public Administrator receives the same commission as any other person who acts as administrator. The amount of the commission is fixed by statute (Surrogate Court's Procedure Act Sections 1106 and 2307). It is calculated on a sliding scale, based on the assets of an estate, starting at 5% of the first $100,000 and going down to 2% of any assets over $5 million. The Public Administrator's commissions are turned over to the general fund of the City of New York. The Public Administrator of Richmond County also receives an additional 1% of the gross assets of an estate, pursuant to SCPA §1106, which is applied toward the reasonable and necessary expenses of the Office. The attorneys which represent the Public Administrator are paid a legal fee, which is governed by a schedule adopted by the Administrative Board and is calculated on a sliding scale based upon the gross assets of the estate. The scale starts at 6% of the first $750,000 of assets and decreases in incremental steps to 1.5% of any assets over $5 million. All commissions and legal fees are subject to the approval of the Richmond County Surrogate's Court.
12. Do the Public Administrator's Attorneys Also Represent the Distributees?
No. The Public Administrator's attorneys will provide you with information about the estate, but they cannot represent you in a legal proceeding. As a distributee, you may be required to present proof of your status at a hearing in the Surrogate's Court. If you do not know of an attorney, and wish to retain one, you may contact: