New York Kinship Hearing
When someone passes away without leaving a valid will an estate administrator will be appointed to manage the estate and distribute the estate's assets to the decedent's statutory heirs according to New York's rules of intestate succession. If you leave a surviving spouse, children, parents, grandchildren or other close relatives, the process of identifying the heirs is usually straightforward. On the other hand, if there are only distant relatives, before the estate administrator distributes your estate, those claiming to be your relatives will have to prove that they are indeed related to you. This is accomplished through a proceeding called a kinship hearing.Proving Kinship
If you are seeking to receive a distribution from the estate of a deceased relative based on the laws of intestate succession, at the kinship hearing you must produce evidence that you are a blood relative. Under New York Estate, Powers and Trusts law section 4-1.1, blood relatives are defined as children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, parents, siblings, uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, and cousins. For purposes of establishing kinship New York Estate, Powers and Trusts law section 4-1.2 states that adopted children are treated like biological children unless they are adopted by another family. Foster children and stepchildren, on the other hand, are not considered biological children and are not entitled to an intestate share. If the decedent fathered a child outside of marriage and paternity is established under New York law, that child is entitled to an intestate share.
To prove kinship you must first establish the identity of the common blood relative and then construct a family tree. Common methods of proving kinship include birth, death, and marriage records. Testimony from disinterested third parties such as neighbors will also be considered. In addition to proving that you are related to the decedent you must also show conclusively that there are no other living relatives who have a claim to the estate equal to or greater than yours.
In the case of In re Estate of Marsden, 2009 NY Slip Op 33235 (N.Y. Surr. Ct., 2009), John Marsden died without leaving a will, without a spouse, and without children. The estate administrator identified 6 first cousins. A 7th purported relative, Lisa Wallace, objected to the proposed distribution of Marsden's estate to the 6 cousins, claiming to be the daughter of Marsden's nephew. This would give her claim higher priority to Marsden's estate over the claims of the 6 cousins. However, testimony showed that Wallace's father relinquished his paternal rights so that Wallace could be adopted by her stepfather. Thus, Wallace had no intestate right to Marsden's estate. After confirming that there were no other surviving relatives with prior claims to Marsden's estate, the surrogate court judge presiding over the kinship hearing confirmed that Marsden's 6 first cousins were entitled to equal shares of Marsden's estate.
In another case while several claimants were able to show that they were blood relatives of the deceased, they were not successful in showing that there were no living relatives with a greater claim to the decedent's estate. In the case of In the Matter of Judicial Settlement of the Accounts of Mosey, 2008 NY Slip Op 52599(U) (N.Y. Surr. Ct. 11/3/2008), 11 cousins were identified as possible heirs to Mosey's intestate estate. However, after the kinship hearing the judge concluded that the evidence was not sufficient to establish that there were no other relatives with an equal to or greater kinship claim to Mosey's estate. Because of this, no distribution of the estate could be immediately made to the 11 cousins.
If a distant relative passed away and you are required to prove consanguinity, it is important that you are represented by an experienced New York kinship hearing lawyer. Prevailing in a kinship hearing can be complicated, often requiring more than showing birth records. The experienced staff at Stephen Bilkis & Associates, PLLC has years of experienced representing heirs, beneficiaries, and other claimants in New York Surrogate's Court. Contact us at 800.696.9529 to schedule a free, no obligation consultation regarding your kinship hearing or other estate matters.