People are leading increasingly complicated lives, in that they spend their time in several locales, some of which may not be their place of residence. If a person is fortunate, they may develop an affection for a particular area and buy a second home in such area. Likewise, they may inherit a beloved family home in a location where they do not live. When such a person passes away, the disposition of all of their property, no matter where located, must be addressed. The question to be explored in this blog post is which Court has jurisdiction over which property.
If a person dies with a Will, the legal proceeding would be entitled a Probate proceeding. If there is no Will, the legal proceeding is called an Administration proceeding. How does a person know where a Probate or Administration proceeding should be brought if a person owned property and even lived in several locations?
Venue is the legal term for the proper location of a legal proceeding. The Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act defines venue as the county of domicile at the time of death. Generally, proper venue for an estate proceeding will be the county identified as the residence of the deceased on the death certificate. Common sense rules also dictate. If a person owned a home, worked, socialized, or paid taxes in a particular area, then venue would be proper in that county and the estate proceeding should be filed in the same county.
Although venue may be properly identified as a particular county in New York State, there could be a lake house in Connecticut or an apartment in London also owned by the deceased. The estate proceeding in New York will be sufficient to distribute bank accounts, property and other assets located in New York, but not to dispose of the Connecticut or London property. An ancillary proceeding would be required to be brought in those venues by local counsel. Likewise, the deceased may have lived in Florida, but owned an investment property in Brooklyn or a cooperative apartment used as a pied-a-terre when visiting Manhattan. The estate proceeding would take place in Florida, but an ancillary proceeding would be needed in New York. Such an ancillary proceeding is not intended to be the dominant proceeding to determine the distribution of the deceased’s property, and is only intended to deal with isolated property holdings.
An attorney is needed to handle the probate or administration proceeding , who will coordinate with another local attorney located where the other property is situated. The first step required is for the probate or administration proceeding to be conducted wherein Letters Testamentary or Letters of Administration are issued by the Surrogate’s Court. The attorney will arrange to have such letters exemplified by the Surrogate’s Court, which is akin to Court certification of the documents. That way, the findings of the initial court will be given validity by another court under the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution. If the property is in the United States, the local attorney will be able to use the exemplified letters to make the court filing required to obtain ancillary letters, allowing for the disposition of the property.
Should the property be located in a foreign country, another step will be required. After the documents are exemplified, it is often an additional requirement that an Apostille be affixed by the Department of State. An Apostille is a certification of a document to be used for legal purposes in another country. Further, there may be other local legal requirements to be addressed that are specific to the location of the other property. Our attorneys are well-versed in coordinating the initial probate or administration proceeding as well as all aspects of local laws requirements. We are also familiar with local attorneys with whom we can coordinate our efforts on behalf of an estate. Please contact our firm, if a loved one has recently passed away and assets are held in different locations.