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Estate, Powers and Trusts, § 12-1.3: Extent of Liability; Judgment Debtor’s Right to Indemnity and Contribution

In New York one of the jobs of an executor of an estate or an estate administrator is to address all claims timely filed against the estate. The executor is required to pay all valid claims prior to distributing estate assets to the beneficiaries or heirs. To make sure that creditors are paid first executors and estate administrators are required to give notice when a debtor passes away. However, there are occasions when not all claims are paid before assets are distributed. As a result the creditors who have not been paid have the right to file claims against the beneficiaries who have received distributions from the estate. Under New York Estate, Powers and Trusts, § 12-1.3, Extent of liability; judgment debtor’s right to indemnity and contribution, there are rules related to how payment can be apportioned among multiple distributees. If you are concerned about a creditor who is attempting collect a debt from the property you received from a decedent’s estate, contact an experienced New York estate litigation lawyer to discuss your concerns.

Creditors’ claims

Among his (or her) many responsibilities, an estate administrator or executor is required to pay estate debts. In order to get paid, creditors must first file claims with the executor. There are 2 time period that are critical for the creditor. First, the creditor must file the claim prior to the expiration of the statute of limitations for that particular type of claim. If the creditor fails to file the claim before the expiration of the statute of limitations, he (or she) will be permanently barred from pursuing the claim. Because there are a number of factors that determine when a statute of limitation has expired, discuss the specifics of your case with an experienced estate litigation attorney in New York.

Second, the creditor must file the claim within 7 months of when the letters of administration were issued by the Surrogate’s Court. Issuance of letters of administration gives the executor or estate administrator the authority to take over the estate and act on behalf of the estate during probate or estate administration. The executor has a fiduciary duty to pay all valid claims from estate assets that are filed within the 7 month period. Failure by the executor to do so may result in the fiduciary being personally liable.

If the creditor does not file his claim within the 7 month period, he can still pursue the claim. However, the executor will not be liable to the creditor for distributing assets without first paying that claim. The creditor has the legal right to turn to those who received assets from the decedent’s estate—beneficiaries or heirs. There are rules associated with trying to collect from beneficiaries or heirs.

  • Estate assets only. A creditor cannot go after the distributee personally, but is only permitted to recoup assets that the distributee received from the decedent’s estate. This may mean that the creditor only receives a portion of what is owed to him.
  • Joint and several liability. In cases where there are multiple distributees, the creditor has the right to pursue payment from one distributee of from several.
  • Order of liability. New York law has rules related to the order of liability of the various classes of distributees, starting with distributees, followed by residuary beneficiaries, general beneficiaries, specific beneficiaries, and the surviving spouse. If you are a beneficiary or heir and you are unsure as to which category you fall under, contact a New York estate litigation lawyer.
Extent of liability; judgment debtor’s right to indemnity and contribution

Because under the theory of joint and several liability a creditor is permitted to seek payment from one distributee and not all creditors, the law gives distributees the right to implead other distributees into the action that the creditor filed. In addition, New York estate law allows a distributee who was forced to pay an entire claim to sue another distribute to recover funds paid to the creditor. The distributee who did pay can demand that the distributee(s) pay him an amount equal to his proportionate share of the debt.

Related Statutory Provisions
  1. Liability of distributes and testamentary beneficiaries: Estates, Powers and Trusts, § 12-1.1
  2. Order of liability; preferences: Estates, Powers and Trusts, § 12-1.2
  3. Action may be joint or several: Estates, Powers and Trusts, § 12-2.2
  4. Effect of judgment: Estates, Powers and Trusts, § 12-2.4
Estate, Powers and Trusts, § 12-1.3- Extent of liability; judgment debtor’s right to indemnity and contribution

(a) Although subject, under paragraph (a) of 12-1.1, to a judgment in the full amount of the value of any property received by him, which may exceed his ratable obligation as described herein, the maximum liability to which a distributee or testamentary beneficiary is subject under this article is his ratable obligation, in the proportion that the value of the decedent's property passing to him bears to the value of all such property passing to distributees or beneficiaries, as the case may be, within the same order of liability as his under paragraph (a) of 12-1.2.

(b) Any person against whom a judgment is obtained under this article, upon payment thereof, is entitled:

(1) To be indemnified by any person prior to liability to him under paragraph (a) of 12-1.2, who remains liable under this article but against whom recovery was not available for a reason set forth in subparagraph (b)(2) of 12-1.1.

(2) To contribution, for any sum paid in excess of his ratable obligation as described in paragraph (a), from any person within the same order of liability as his under paragraph (a) of 12-1.2, but only to the extent that such person's ratable obligation is unpaid.

Contact the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates

If a creditor was not able to collect debts owed by an estate prior to distribution of estate assets, beneficiaries and heirs who received assets may be vulnerable to a claim from that creditor. To understand your vulnerability and your legal rights, contact an experienced estate litigation attorney serving New York. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates have decades of experience successfully representing clients in complex estate matters such as creditor lawsuits. We are here to help. Contact us at 1-800-NY-NY-LAW (1-800-696-9529) to schedule a free, no obligation consultation regarding your case. We represent clients in the following locations: Nassau County, Brooklyn, Bronx, Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island, Long Island, Suffolk County and Westchester County.

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