This is part 2 of "The Why of Wills".....
In New York, here's what happens when a person with no "close" family (no spouse, kids, parents, siblings, nieces or nephews) dies without a Will. The Public Administrator of the County where the person dies, begins to administer the Estate. The Public Administrator is a public official who steps into estate cases when there is nobody else available to act. In a County like Queens, with 2 million people, it happens quite often. They have a good sized staff, and a highly skilled law firm to represent them.
When it appears that a person has died without a Will, or if there is a Will but nobody is acting, the Public Administrator begins to administer the Estate. They do anything and everything that an Executor or close family member would do. They sometimes arrange burial, they clean out apartments and houses, they try to figure out who the closest living relatives are, they search for a Will, they receive mail, they sell houses or apartments, they marshal the accounts and assets of the decedent, they deal with claims of creditors, and anything else that may be needed.
When they reach the point where an Estate Administrator would ordinarily pay the money to the heirs, the Public Administrator will then file an "Accounting Proceeding". This is a proceeding where they set forth everything they have done, lay out all the money taken in and paid out, and ask the Court to set an attorneys fee for their attorneys, and approve the way they have handled the money and the claims. They notify all interested parties, and when the accounting proceeding is heard in Court, any disputes are resolved. The final thing the proceeding requests is the remaining money to be held by the City of New York, pending the establishment of "kinship".
A "Kinship Proceeding" should then follow. This is when the cousins have to prove who they are, and thereby claim and ultimately receive the money. This can be rather involved, and very interesting, depending on your perspective.
As a lawyer, I find these interesting. They are a lot of work, the kind of work we are well paid for. For the people who die and create these cases, or for the friends or family who WOULD have been included IF the decedent had made a Will, these laughing heir cases are often gut wrenching. The thing is, they can be simply avoided......a person whose closest family is cousins SHOULD make a will.
More on Kinship Proceedings in the next post.....