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Commencing a Wrongful Death Action without an Immediate Family Member as a Distributee

What happens if, as a result of negligence, a person dies in the State of New York but they do not have any immediate family members to administrate their estate?  Does, any potential lawsuit against a third party become lost?  The short answer is no, the opportunity for a lawsuit does not become lost, but the process in which to initiate a lawsuit becomes much more complicated.  The following is a brief overview of the process for filing a wrongful death lawsuit when a person dies without a will and without a distributee who is also a qualified person to administrate the estate under the New York EPTL.

Here is an example, a person is tragically hit by a vehicle while crossing the street and dies as a result.  Now let’s assume that person died without a will and had no living children, parents, siblings or grandparents.  When a person dies without a will, their estate will be divided pursuant to the New York EPTL, and must be administrated by an administrator who qualifies under New York Law.  In order to qualify under NY EPTL the administrator must be a distributee (must receive monetary benefit from the estate) and must be an immediate family member i.e. spouse, parent, grandparent, sibling, adult child (there are other technical ways for guardians to become administrator but that will not be covered in this article).  If no distributee qualifies to be an administrator, the Public Administrator of the County where the decedent resided must be petitioned to be the administrator of the estate.  The Public Administrator is a public authority who will administer the estate of decedents who do not have an administrator.  So, if the decedent died as a result of third party negligence then the Public Administrator would be the plaintiff in charge of the lawsuit.  The Public Administrator will also retain the lawyer who will handle the wrongful death case for the estate.  When the lawsuit is complete and if there is a monetary recovery the Public Administrator will then distribute the money to the proper distributees of the estate.

Under normal circumstances the administrator of an estate would be the living spouse or adult child of the decedent.  This makes sense because they would be the primary recipient of any monetary funds that would be derived from a wrongful death action.  New York Law mandates that only an immediate family member who is a direct distributee of the estate can be appointed administrator of the estate.  The law also mandates that only select close family members may be qualified to administrate the estate.  So, if you are the soul distributee but are only a cousin of the decedent, you may not administrate the estate.  Instead you must use the services of the Public Administrator.  The Public Administrator and their attorney are entitled to a percentage fee of the ultimate recovery for their services.  Sometimes this process can be confusing and it is important that you seek the guidance of an attorney who is well versed in this field.

Giampa Law has been handling wrongful death actions for New York residents for over thirty years.  The attorneys at Giampa Law are well versed in dealing with the Public Administrator and can also help a qualified family member become Administrator of their loved one’s estate.  If you believe that your loved one has wrongfully died as a result of a third party and believe their estate is entitled to compensation please contact Giampa Law.