What happens when someone without heirs dies with a will v. when someone dies without a will?  Kinship cases v. Estate of Paul Allen

When there is no will:  Kinship cases

What is a NY kinship case?  As a NY will contest lawyer with two decades of experience probating estates for New Yorkers I have seen individuals who pass away with heirs, without heirs and everything in between.  When we pass away with heirs such as with a spouse and children, and a NY attorney drafted will, our estates can be concluded rather efficiently assuming everything was prepared properly.  However not all of us are fortunate enough to have close heirs, also known as next of kin.  For those individuals without close heirs any NY kinship lawyer can tell you that drafting a will is of paramount importance.  And as a NY kinship attorney I can tell you exactly what happens after we pass without close surviving heirs, and without a will and it is not pretty.

For those who do pass without a will and without living heirs closer than first cousins the estate quickly becomes a NY kinship estate.  The first red flag occurs when the decedent, who usually lives alone and quite often engaged in hoarding, is not seen for a while.  Eventually police are called to the residence and the body of the decedent is identified.  The medical examiner is called and the remains are delivered to the morgue where the examiner will make an attempt to track down and notify next of kin.  If heirs closer than first cousins are not identified a report of death is then filed.  Once filed the Public Administrator will make burial arrangements and begin administering the estate by conducting their own cursory genealogical investigation ascertaining any and all potential heirs.  The Public Administrator will also inquire as to the existence of a will.  If the decedent did not have a will the Public Administrator will take control of the assets by becoming the fiduciary of the estate.

As fiduciary the Public Administrator will have two roles, to collect all the estate assets and then to both identify and notify all potential heirs in the NY kinship estate of the pending proceeding.  Once notified the heirs will need to retain a NY kinship lawyer to represent their interests in the kinship case before claiming its proceeds.  Proving kinship for a NY kinship lawyer is often complicated.  First the NY kinship lawyer must identify all descendants of the deceased.  Then the NY kinship lawyer must identify and show convincing evidence for each heir that predeceased the decedent and for those who survived the decedent.  Such evidence requires both intensive and exhaustive genealogical research performed by the NY kinship lawyer in collaboration with a licensed genealogist before any status as an heir can be established.

Making matters worse, many family trees include relatives who are both domestic and abroad.  If this is the case obtaining the requisite testimony and certified records from overseas can prove incredibly challenging for the NY kinship lawyer.   While domestic records are usually reliably maintained and readily available if you know where to look, this is not always the case when dealing with foreign magistrates.

In fact, depending on the size of the family tree, these NY kinship cases can often turn into cryptic puzzles for the NY kinship lawyer to decipher while sifting through mountains of research.   It is not unheard of NY kinship cases even reaching dead ends that can only become discernable with the passage of time.

When there is a will: Estate of Paul Allen

Paul Allen died on October 15, 2018 from complications of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  The 65-year-old Allen died with a net worth of more than $20 billion dollars making Allen the 21st richest person in the world.  Paul Allen was the notorious co-founder of Microsoft in 1975.  Allen started Microsoft with his good friend Bill Gates.  In 1980 the two entrepreneurs were contracted by IBM to produce an operating system for the computing giant’s new line of personal computers.  Prior to this point computers were only available to commercial companies and hardcore computer programmers as their operating systems were nearly impossible for the general public to decrypt.  Allen and Gates’s vision was to create an operating system that everyone could use.  The only problem was neither Bill Gates nor Paul Allen knew how to write such an operating system.

So the two put their heads together and bought an operating system from someone else and then licensed it to IBM.  That someone else was computer programmer Tim Patterson.  Patterson sold his operating system which would become MS-DOS to Microsoft in 1981 for $75,000.00.  That $75,000.00 piece of software would eventually be licensed from Microsoft to IBM for each and every personal computer in creation netting Bill Gates and Paul Allen cumulative wealth in excess of $100 billion dollars.

Paul Allen neither leaves behind a spouse nor children.  Fortunately for Paul Allen’s affairs he did leave behind a will.  Paul Allen owned significant holdings worth billions and billions of dollars.  Allen was the proud owner of the Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trail Blazers franchises valued respectively at nearly $3 billion dollars and $1 billion dollars, not to mention his $250-million-dollar yacht, Octopus.  But Paul Allen was not only a capitalist but one of the most generous philanthropists in history.  Throughout his lifetime Allen gave away $2 billion dollars protecting endangered wildlife in Africa from poachers, countless additional billions of dollars on Alzheimer’s Disease prevention research and fighting the spread of Ebola.  In fact, at the request of his good friends Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, Paul Allen was one of the first contributors to pledge the majority of his estate to a variety of non-profit charitable foundations as part of the Giving Pledge.

Paul Allen’s will name’s his sister Jody Allen executor who now bears the burden of deciding how the Allen fortune will be distributed.  A NY kinship lawyer can easily see how absent a will and without a spouse or known children, claimants could easily show up to claim a portion of the Allen estate.   And they do.  Just because Allen leaves behind no known children, who is to say that at some point throughout the estate process a claimant alleging to be a non-marital child does not appear.  This is why an attorney drafted will is so important especially when there are no close surviving heirs.  Allen’s last will and testament will now be quickly admitted to probate, appointing Jody Allen as fiduciary so she can begin her work carrying out her brother’s wishes and distributing his estate to meaningful charities.

NY kinship lawyers provide invaluable counsel which can literally shape and reshape the fortunes for heirs in these often complex and hard fought NY kinship estates.  If you or someone you love is the heir to a NY kinship estate, you may have rights under the NY estate law.  Feel free to call an experienced NY kinship lawyer at The Law Offices of Jason W. Stern & Associates, at (718) 261-2444 for a free consultation.  Our Queens estate lawyers have over 50 years of combined NY estate law experience handling these often treacherous NY kinship cases for heirs in the counties of Queens, New York, Kings, Bronx, Westchester, Rockland, Nassau, Richmond, Orange, Dutchess as well as in the State of New Jersey.




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