In New York, all estates with a Last Will and Testament must go through a legal process known as probate. The main purpose of probate is to prove the will is valid and then to administer the estate by collecting assets, paying just debts, and ultimately transferring assets from the name of the deceased to the name of the living beneficiaries. Administration of an estate is also necessary when a person dies without leaving a will. When a person dies without a will in New York, the estate assets are distributed according to state "intestate succession" laws, as outlined in Estates Powers and Trusts Law (EPTL) §4-1.1, rather than according to the decedent’s wishes.
Disputes may arise during the probate and estate administration process regarding the validity of an existing will, the existence of a will, how estate assets are distributed, or other probate administration decisions made by the executor of the estate.
Probate litigation can be complex and stressful for all parties involved, resulting in delays and additional legal fees. Frequently, disagreements by the parties must be resolved by filing a lawsuit against the estate in New York Surrogate's Court and having the court resolve the matter. However, complainants should be aware that the statute of limitations for filing in these cases varies depending on the nature of the complaint and the remedy sought Here are some examples of common types of probate disputes, as well as the applicable statutes of limitations.
Fraud and Breach of Fiduciary Duty
The statute of limitations for a fraud action is between two and six years. The court's decision on the exact timeline is heavily influenced by the factual circumstances. Depending on when the fraud occurred, when it was discovered, or when it should have been discovered.
The statute of limitations governing breach of fiduciary duty claims is not straightforward and requires careful analysis where the court considers the remedy the plaintiff seeks and whether the plaintiff's breach of fiduciary duty claims are founded on allegations of fraud, which itself is a separate inquiry regardless of the relief sought. In this case, the plaintiff can use the six-year statute of limitations and two-year discovery rule that governs fraud claims.
Although there is no specific statute of limitations in New York law for claims of breach of fiduciary duty or unjust enrichment, courts typically determine the applicable statute of limitations, under CPLR 214(4) or six years under CPLR 213(1) by analyzing the specific remedy that the plaintiff is requesting. If the remedy requested is in equity, the statute of limitations is six years. Whereas if the remedy sought is monetary as a result of injury to property, the statute of limitations is only three years. If the breach of fiduciary duty was committed through fraud, CPLR 213 (8) applies, and the plaintiff has six years from the date of the fraud or two years from the date of discovery, whichever is later.
CPLR 213(8) reads:
“an action based upon fraud; the time within which the action must be commenced shall be the greater of six years from the date the cause of action accrued or two years from the time the plaintiff or the person under whom the plaintiff claims discovered the fraud, or could with reasonable diligence have discovered it.”
An estate's beneficiaries, heirs, or other interested parties have the right to examine accountings relating to the assets in the estate. An interested party may contest the fiduciary's actions if they feel the fiduciary has made poor financial or investment decisions. The court may ask the fiduciary to present the accountings. The statute of limitations for accounting proceedings brought by beneficiaries against trustees or other fiduciaries is 6 years according to New York law to CPLR § 213 which reads:
“The Practice Commentaries to CPLR § 213 read: Accounting proceedings, brought by beneficiaries against trustees or other fiduciaries, or partner in a partnership, are rooted in equity and are therefore governed by the six-year limitations period of CPLR 213(1).”
The statute of limitations in a probate case can differ significantly depending on the plaintiff's requested remedy as well as the specific facts of the case.
Contact our estate litigation attorneys if you are involved in a trust or estate litigation matter. We can provide you with specialized assistance in a variety of estate and trust litigation matters, and we can work quickly to find a resolution.