In 2016 Joseph Stancak passed away at the age of 87. Joseph Stancak lived a very modest lifestyle in a small cape house as depicted in the picture above. However there was nothing modest about Joseph Stancak’s Estate which was in excess of $11 million dollars. More remarkable was the fact Joseph Stancak left behind neither a will, spouse, nor children or any next of kin closer than first cousins. Stancak, who lived modestly, invested in the stock market throughout his lifetime and did very well. Stancak never displayed his wealth. Neighbors reported often seeing Stancak repairing his electric lawn mower and 1985 Oldsmobile.
So what happens next in the Kinship Estate of Joseph Stancak?
As stated within the NY Estate Law, EPTL 4-1.1, in cases where a decedent passes away without both a valid NY will and surviving heirs closer than nieces and nephews, a Public Administrator will be appointed to administer the NY estate. This involves collecting any and all assets of the decedent’s NY estate while satisfying the debts of the NY kinship estate. Once the assets of the NY estate are collected by the Public Administrator’s Offices, they will perform a superficial genealogical search to determine the identities and whereabouts of any easily ascertainable potential distant relatives who would be heirs. I should stress that the Public Administrator’s Office is under no obligation to prove kinship for any party or perform any more than a very narrow search for heirs under the NY estate law. Once this limited search is completed the Public Administrator will file their formal judicial accounting with the Court and will serve any potential heirs located with a copy of same for the NY kinship estate.
The NY kinship estate proceeding formally begins on the return date for the Public Administrator’s Accounting. Technically, all potential heirs need to retain a NY kinship lawyer to file formal objections to the Public Administrator’s Accounting prior to this return date to preserve their rights to inherit from the NY estate. If potential heirs fail to file verified objections to the accounting proceeding the proceeds of the entire NY kinship estate are deposited into the NYC Department of Finance where they remain on deposit indefinitely.
Once retained, it is the burden of the NY estate lawyers representing the potential heirs to meet certain requirements. NY kinship lawyers for claimants must first establish that the decedent was not survived by a spouse or children. Then, pursuant to NY estate law, where the Objectants (heirs) allege that the decedent was survived only by first cousins or first cousins once removed, they have the burden of establishing kinship. To do so the claimants must prove that they are the decedent’s closest blood relatives as defined by 4-1.1 of the NY estate law. To do so NY estate lawyers must make an evidentiary showing of how each claimant is related to the decedent and that no other persons of the same or nearer degree of relationship survived the decedent. Upon proof that no heirs other than those before the Court exist, the class of heirs may be “closed” and kinship proven.
So what happened to Joseph Stancak’s $11 million kinship estate?
As described above the Public Administrator was appointed to marshal and account for all of the assets within the Estate of Joseph Stancak. All told, once the $11 million dollars was marshalled kinship estate lawyers were retained to represent 119 identifiable surviving first cousins of Joseph Stancak to claim their share of the inheritance. While many of Stancak’s relatives were domestic, many lived abroad in places such as the United Kingdom, Poland, Germany and Canada. International kinship cases are often the most difficult because genealogical record keeping can be very inconsistent among different cultures. To make matters worse genealogical records required to prove kinship in international kinship estates are often lost with the passing of time, wars and changing of governments. Most NY kinship estates rarely involve representing 119 claimants making this kinship estate an anomaly. With so many claimants each heir received less than $100,000.00 at the closing of the Estate of Joseph Stancak which is very unusual. A typical NY kinship estate involves maybe 15-30 heirs, not 119. However, the kinship estate lawyers were able to close the class of heirs, proving their 119 clients’ entitlement to the $11 million kinship estate. Perhaps the most incredible part of this case is that the decedent Joseph Stancak was one of seven children. Most of the time NY kinship estates involve a decedent who is an only child thus having no heirs. However that was not the case here. Stancak’s six siblings never had children and all predeceased him. Had any one of them survived Joseph they would have inherited Jospeh Stancak’s entire kinship estate. These quirky idiosyncrasies are what makes NY kinship estates so challenging for NY estate lawyers. One little detail like a lost sibling or the emergence of a non-marital child could derail the entire case at any time. Ultimately it is up to the NY estate lawyer to act as the heir finders to prove up and close the class for the entire kinship estate.
If you or someone you love is the heir of a first cousin, you may have rights under the NY estate law. Feel free to call an experienced NY estate lawyer at The Law Offices of Jason W. Stern & Associates, at (718) 261-2444 for a free consultation. Our Queens estate lawyers have 60 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 and Dutchess.