GRIZZLY FIND IN NY KINSHIP CASE: Estate of James L. Nichols, Jr.

As a NY estate lawyer practicing in Forest Hills, Queens, I have seen some very interesting and strange cases. Our firm is one of a handful of NY estate firms who handle complex kinship cases. These cases occur when someone both passes without a will and leaves behind no close living relatives.

From our extensive NY estate law experience handling these complicated cases, we often find these decedents to be reclusive hoarders. Inexplicably these individuals often amass large amounts of “stuff” is a nice way of putting it. In some instances it is not uncommon to find large amounts of valuable belongings stashed amongst the mountains of used clothing and thirty year old newspaper clippings.

In a previous New Mexico estate I blogged about, more than $7 million dollars in rare gold coins were recovered in one hoarders garage. This stash of gold coins were sold at auction by the Public Administrator, the proceeds of which were distributed to the sole surviving heir, a distant cousin in California.

One of my earliest NY kinship estates involved a hoarder who suffocated beneath garbage bags of rags in her Forest Hills, NY Co-op. As a NY estate lawyer handling kinship cases I truly have no idea what I will find amongst a decedent’s possessions.


James L. Nichols, Jr., died in December of 2012 at the age of 82 from natural causes in Dutchess County, New York. James L. Nichols, Jr., passed away without a will or any close surviving relatives. As such, the Dutchess County Public Administrator brought a proceeding to handle this NY kinship estate.

The Public Administrator’s role is to enter the premises of the decedent, inventorying and marshalling any and all assets of the NY estate. In doing so here, amidst the mountains of collected junk in the decedent’s house, the Public Administrator stumbled upon the petrified remains of Joanne Nichols, the decedent’s wife. Joanne Nichols had disappeared 28 years ago and was assumed to have committed suicide after losing her son in a drowning accident three years prior.

The grizzly discovery of the petrified remains of Joanne Nichols were found in a sealed box that had been placed behind a false wall in the decedent’s basement 28 years ago. These remains revealed Joanne Nichols had been the victim of blunt force trauma to her head, undoubtedly by her husband.

When the neighbors of James Nichols, Jr., were questioned about their neighbor, they all described him as an unemotional hoarder. Although most decedents in kinship cases are not murderers, they are often hoarders. As such it is not surprising that James Nichols fits the profile of decedents for these types of kinship cases.

Perhaps for hoarders it is this same inability to let go of their possessions that prevents them from having an attorney draft a will. In any event, once the Dutchess County Public Administrator is finished marshaling the assets of the Nichols Estate, the proceeds will be distributed to any and all distant relatives of the decedent in a kinship proceeding. With the help of an experienced NY kinship estate lawyer, perhaps some closure will finally come to this family from this grizzly estate.

If you or someone you know is the distant relative of someone who passed without a will or close surviving relatives, feel free to speak to a NY estate lawyer at the Law Offices of Jason W. Stern & Associates at (718) 261-2444. Our experienced NY kinship lawyers will help you evaluate your case and prove up kinship.

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