News outlets have reported on the untimely death of actress Anne Heche. The late actress was allegedly driving under the influence of alcohol and illegal drugs when she crashed into a Los Angeles area home. She died shortly thereafter from injuries suffered in the crash. As to the unlucky homeowner, the crash caused a fire that destroyed the house and all of the possessions inside. The homeowner has sued the Heche Estate for damages suffered in the crash. This post will address how an Estate is to properly handle legal claims.
This author is not privy to details as to whether Ms. Heche had a Will. If she had died in New York, her estate would be managed differently depending upon whether she had a Will. A person can engage the services of an experienced attorney to prepare a Will and other estate documents that memorializes one’s wishes for the distribution of assets upon death, names those persons to serve as Executor, names guardians for minor children and other details. When there is a Will in New York, one’s estate will be handled through a probate proceeding in Surrogate’s Court. Should a person not have a Will, the estate will be distributed according to the law of intestacy. In the case of intestacy, the surviving relative in the closest degree of relationship will serve as the Administrator. Administration proceedings are also brought in Surrogate’s Court.
An Executor or Administrator, as the case may be, is a fiduciary and is obligated to address claims made against the Estate and pay liabilities before making distributions of assets as directed in the Will or in accordance with the intestacy statute. The homeowner who has sued will have her claim addressed by the fiduciary appointed in the Heche Estate, who will most likely seek legal advice and respond to the Complaint. The fiduciary’s role is to responsibly address claims, evaluate if they are legitimate and attempt to have them reduced before paying such claims with estate assets. That way, the fiduciary is also preserving estate assets, which is another legal obligation of a fiduciary.
The Return of New York Foreclosure Cases
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to fade, many legal cases that were temporarily postponed by the Courts, such as foreclosures, are resuming and going forward in litigation. During the COVID-19 era, foreclosure cases, along with evictions, were stayed by executive order. That meant that if a lawsuit had been filed to foreclose a property, the Courts did not move the case forward, and simply “froze” the case, pending the end of the pandemic.
Recently, with the waning of COVID-19 and the realization that we will never be completely free of the virus, the Courts in New York have lifted the stay on foreclosure matters. This means both that new foreclosure cases may be filed, and also that existing cases may continue moving through the Courts.
With the economy in recession, and home interest rates rising due to efforts to forestall inflation, many borrowers may now find themselves at risk of foreclosure. This post will discuss what to expect in a foreclosure case now that the Courts are “back to normal.” This review will assume that the property in question is residential, and is the primary residence of the homeowner. For primary residences, there are laws in place to assist homeowners, which do not necessarily apply to cases involving commercial properties or “second homes.”
Commercial Leases and the Pandemic – Who Pays?
As the COVID-19 pandemic fades, some legal cases that were temporarily postponed by the Courts, such as commercial evictions , are resuming and going forward in litigation. A recent case in the news involved the popular family restaurant Applebee’s, and its location in the heart of New York City, in Times Square.
The case involved the non-payment of rent totaling over seven million dollars by Applebee’s during the pandemic. The company argued that it had cash flow problems worsened by the pandemic, had to completely close its Times Square location in March, 2020, and could not reopen until June, 2021.
The attorneys for the landlord argued that there were no clauses in the commercial lease allowing Applebee’s to avoid making payments owed during the pandemic. The Court ruled that Applebee’s had to pay the full amount of the back rent, and also ordered that it be evicted from the Times Square location.
Couple or Throuple? Succession Rights in New York Rental Units
Our firm often fields inquiries from clients regarding successor rights in New York residential rental apartments. First, experienced counsel should determine whether the premises are subject to rent regulation. Rent regulation in New York State applies to many, but not all, residential units. It is more prevalent in New York City than in its surrounding suburbs. However, it does also cover some rental units in Westchester and Nassau Counties.
Assuming that rent regulation does apply to the premises, then the current occupants may be allowed successor rights once the original party on the lease either passes away or vacates the premises. For example, let’s assume Grandma rents an apartment subject to rent regulation, and only her name is on the original lease. As Grandma ages, some of her grandchildren move in to take care of her, and eventually become permanent occupants of the premises. Even though they are not listed as tenants on the original lease, these individuals, as family members occupying the premises, may be entitled to a successor lease once Grandma passes away or moves out of state.
A recent New York City Court case raises new possibilities regarding the legal definition of “family members” as they apply to more modern, non-traditional relationships. The case of West 49th Street, LLC v. O’Neill involved a New York City apartment which was occupied by three unmarried individuals, only one of whom was on the rent-stabilized lease. After the death of the named tenant, one of the other individuals claimed that he was a non-traditional family member, despite the fact that the third individual, and not him, was the “life partner” of the deceased for over twenty-five years.
Happy Rosh Hashanah
Her Majesty’s Riches
Long-time royal watchers were dismayed to hear the news of the death of Great Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II. This author and others admired Her Majesty’s service to her country and her longevity. While we obviously do not have royalty in the United States, many of us consider our ancestors to be royals on a personal level. This post will address the unexpected parallels between the distribution of the Queen’s assets and property interests that may be held by our non-royal clients.
Queen Elizabeth II enjoyed the ownership and use of multiple castles. Even though most Americans do not own castles, we still use the expression “a man’s home is his castle.” This begs the question, who will receive one’s castle after a relative’s death? If the property is held as joint tenants with right of survivorship, the last owner to survive will own the entire property automatically by “operation of law.” This result is not unlike the likely result that The Queen’s castles are now automatically owned by her son who is now known as King Charles III. Further, if the owners before death were husband and wife, the property is considered to be owned as tenants by the entirety, automatically leaving the property to the surviving spouse.
If the “castle” is not owned by marital spouses or as joint tenants with right of survivorship, then ownership will be determined by whether the deceased person had an experienced attorney draft a Will. If there is no Will, then the laws of intestacy and an estate administration proceeding will be necessary. Intestacy is similar to the rules of succession and inheritance by royals, in that the person(s) in the particular decree of relationship stand to inherit the subject property.
Renting a Foreclosed Property? Here Are Your Options.
As the COVID-19 pandemic fades, many legal cases that were temporarily postponed by the Courts, such as foreclosures, are resuming and going forward in litigation. This results in more properties owned by borrowers failing to pay their mortgages being foreclosed. Due to the increased number of cases going to a final judgment of foreclosure and sale, and then being sold to the highest bidder, there is an increased amount of rental tenants in foreclosed properties. This post will discuss the legal status of these tenants and what their legal options will be during and after the foreclosure process.
Many rental tenants become aware, during their tenancy, that the owner of the property is being foreclosed, due to their failure to pay the mortgage. As occupants of the premises, the tenants may be served with a foreclosure Summons and Complaint, addressed to “John Doe” and/or “Jane Doe” as occupants, due to the foreclosing lender being unaware of the names of the rental tenants.
In such a case, the rental tenants should engage experienced counsel familiar with the legal aspects of the situation. The rental tenants have several options. Until the foreclosure is completed by an auction sale and legal transfer of the property to either the lender or the successful bidder at the foreclosure sale, a legal tenant is generally not subject to eviction. If the tenant has a current lease of at least fair market value, his is permitted to stay until his lease term expires. Even after their lease expires, in general, tenants will not be subject to eviction proceedings until after the property is transferred from its current owner through the foreclosure process. The new owner may then commence eviction proceedings in the local landlord-tenant Court after it obtains title to the foreclosure property.
Supreme Court’s Abortion Decision- Possible Implications for Same-Sex Marriage & Estate Planning
Many of our readers are aware that the United States Supreme Court recently overturned Roe v. Wade, its landmark decision wherein it determined that the right to privacy derived from the 14th Amendment to the Constitution applies to abortion rights. Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization , found that abortion rights should now be determined by each individual state, instead of at the Federal level. Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., as lead author of Dobbs, wrote that the Court was ruling with respect to abortion rights only, but not as to other rights derived from the line of right to privacy cases, such as contraception and same-sex marriage. The concurring opinion of Justice Thomas in Dobbs raised concern because he suggested that the Court should reconsider other privacy cases. While it is not this author’s intent to comment on the abortion rights debate, it is the intent of this post to highlight legal protections required by same-sex couples, particularly with respect to estate planning should marriage equality not be consistently upheld on the Federal level.
In Obergefell v. Hodges , the Court found that same-sex marriage is a right derived from the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. However, if this decision is reexamined and overturned, the implications for same-sex couples could be severe. Those persons already married may have the rug pulled out from under them and be legally considered to be unmarried, depending upon their state. It should be noted that there is a movement to pass legislation at the Federal level to codify the right to same-sex marriage. Such legislation may not be ultimately passed into law or could be overturned by future Supreme Court rulings.
Unmarried couples should engage the services of experienced attorneys to draft estate documents, such as Wills, Trusts, Living Wills, Health Care Proxies and Powers of Attorneys. The reason for this activity is that the law generally considers that default decision maker to be the spouse with respect to end of life health care decisions and distribution of assets. Same-sex partners may not always be considered to be legal spouses if judicial decisions continue to follow this conservative route. If a person dies without a Will in New York, the applicable statute determines the distribution of assets and who may be the Administrator of the Estate. Unless same-sex marriage is consistently recognized, a same-sex partner may be excluded from receiving assets and from acting as Administrator. Family members who are estranged from the deceased could take the place of the intended life partner in this event. The best way to prevent this outcome is to have professionally prepared estate documents in place that comply with one’s wishes and clearly state that the same-sex partner is to inherit and serve as fiduciary for the Estate.