New York’s Appellate Division has upheld a decision of New York County Surrogate Renee S. Roth which denied a petition aimed at discharging the public administrator. The case is the Estate of Jordan 859 N.Y.S.2d 447. The petition involved an application by first cousins of the decedent to revoke letters of administration previously issued to the public administrator.
While your faithful law blogger has yet to meet a colleague in estate practice who does not, from time to time, harbor feelings of extreme hostility towards the public administrator, a palace revolution must be carefully planned in order to succeed. Evidently, this one was not.
Petitioners’ charge that the public administrator had mismanaged the claim and had caused "irreparable harm" needed to be accompanied by sufficient proof to sustain it but the court found that no evidence was offered in support of this claim. Also, the application to discharge the public administrator was made just six days after she was appointed to the case. That made it rather hard to demonstrate unfitness and irreparable harm.
The court also found that the petitioners had not offered "proof sufficient to establish their superior entitlement to letters of administration over the respondent" . They failed to meet their burden of proof that they were the class of kin (first cousins) closest in relationship to the decedent . The family tree that they offered as proof of this was determined to be insufficient to overcome the possibility that others closer in kinship (such as children, grandchildren, brothers or sisters) are alive. Their attorney did not have personal knowledge of the family tree and therefore could not help them to establish their position.
The woods are full of horror stories involving public administrators. While they provide a valuable and legally necessary service by handling the estates of decedents who have left no qualified person behind to do the job, there are many occasions when cases get lost in the cracks and literally years go by before deserving and legally-entitled distributees see their inheritances. While there are legal remedies available to deal with these situations, they are fraught with pitfalls and often the money at stake is not enough to justify a full-court press. There oughta be a better way!