The Story of Aunt Beth: A Kinship Tale
Let’s say this year you are going to your dear Aunt Beth’s house. While contemplating what to wear and who to avoid at the dinner table, you recall that Aunt Beth really is not your aunt. In fact, Aunt Beth is really not related to you at all. And what’s more, none of the other people at that dinner are related to Aunt Beth either. The only reason you are going to Aunt Beth’s house this year is because your parents both died last year, you are knee deep in their estate, and you don’t want to schlep to your brother’s house across the county to answer questions about when your brother can expect to receive his inheritance.
Your parents’ assets went to you and your brother, but who would receive the proceeds of Aunt Beth’s estate?
In New York, when a person dies, an effort is made to locate that person’s next of kin. These efforts can include internet searches, conversations with friends and family, conversations with the professionals the decedent employed, and even newspaper publications. If people come forward, then they must prove their relationship to the decedent.
Kinship proceedings are the process by which alleged family members seek to establish their relationship to the decedent, in order to collect the proceeds of the decedent’s estate. In a kinship proceeding, an alleged relative must prove their relationship to the decedent, eliminate the possibility that there are living relatives who are closer to the decedent (e.g. if the alleged relative is a cousin, then he/she has to prove that there are no surviving uncles/aunts), and prove that the alleged relative does not need to share the estate with other alleged relatives (e.g. if the alleged relative is a cousin, then he/she has to prove that there are no other surviving cousins). This is done by producing documents and oral testimony about the decedent’s family history, either by the alleged relative or somebody who knew the decedent. Documents tend to be certified copies of birth and death certificates, wills, census records, tax returns, and other business records. Pictures are also acceptable.
What happens if kinship is not proven or if no alleged relative comes forward? Then the proceeds of Aunt Beth’s estate will be deposited with the Commissioner of Finance for the benefit of unknown family members. The funds are not lost. They can be recovered if or when an alleged relative surfaces.