A Camden man faces multiple criminal charges after he allegedly falsified documents to keep receiving New York State pension payments for a deceased retired worker.
Authorities charged 67-year-old Joseph Grossman with wire fraud and conspiracy stemming from an account belonging to a woman identified only as “Pensioner One.” After she retired from the state in 1999, she began receiving monthly pension payments from New York State and Local Employees’ Retirement System (“NYSLERS”) via check or direct deposit. Pensioner One died in August 2010; the death certificate, which records her name, Social Security number, and other vital statistics, lists Mr. Grossman as the “informant.” In November 2010, Mr. Grossman asked a judge to name him personal representative of the estate; that application was immediately granted.
At roughly this same time, NYSLERS sent two letters to Pensioner One’s last known address, in an attempt to verify her death. These letters generated a phone call response, during which the caller stated that Pensioner One would soon respond in writing and that her brother had received power of attorney over her financial affairs. That letter arrived about two weeks later, along with doctored copies of the probate application which omitted any reference to Pensioner One’s death and a direct deposit form tied to an account which Mr. Grossman opened after Pensioner One died.
In addition to serving prison time, Mr. Grossman may have to reimburse NYSLERS for sixty-one payments totaling almost $131,000.
Some account obligations, including pension payments and most spousal support payments, automatically terminate upon death. Other items, such as most child support obligations, do not terminate upon death. In addition to the identity of the payee and the nature of the obligation, there are some other items that cause assets to be identified as probate or non-probate.
In a nutshell, assets that the decedent solely owns must be handled through probate, and joint interest assets can be disposed of outside probate. Some specific examples include:
- Real Property: If the decedent held sole title to the property or held it as a tenant in common, houses, land, and other real property are probate assets. If there were joint owners or someone else has rights through a joint tenancy with right of survivorship or other vehicle, these assets are non-probate assets.
- Personal Property: Jewelry, automobiles, bank accounts, furniture, and other items are nearly always probate assets, unless there is a joint title or the decedent was in bankruptcy.
- Life Insurance: These items are probate assets if the decedent, or the estate, was the sole beneficiary.
- Retirement Accounts: 401(k)s, IRAs, and other defined contribution plans are normally non-probate assets.
Many people place non-probate assets into a trust to help ensure that a certain asset reaches the proper beneficiary at the proper time.
If the decedent died without a will, or the will is later invalidated, the decedent’s property passes through intestacy, which means the state dictates who gets what. Statistically, somewhere around half of Americans either have no will or have wills that are probably invalid, because they have not been kept current.
If there is a valid will, it is critical to assess the true size of the probate estate, because there may be some shortcuts available, depending on the dollar amount. There are three main avenues:
- Single Asset Affidavit: Pursuant to Section 62-3-1201 of the South Carolina Probate Code, any inheritor can file this document if the decedent has been dead at least 30 days, no probate application has been filed, and the estate contains less that $25,000. Once a judge approves the affidavit, the person in charge of accounts must “make payment of the indebtedness or deliver the tangible personal property or the instrument evidencing the debt, obligation, stock, or chose in action.”
- Small Estate Probate: The personal representative (PR) can bypass additional notice to creditors and take other shortcuts if the estate has less than $25,000. So instead of waiting for the clock to tick down, the PR “may immediately disburse and distribute the estate to the persons entitled thereto and file a closing statement as provided in Section 62-3-1204” promptly after publishing the written notice.
- Large Estate Probate: If no shortcut is available, and it often is not, probate lasts a minimum of eight months. After securing and real property, the PR must obtain the death certificate, along with other necessary documents, and then start the probate process that includes an early conference with a judicial staff member. Once all known heirs and creditors receive notice, the PR must file an inventory and deliver a copy to all interested parties, including the Department of Revenue & Taxation.
The estate may be liable for both income and inheritance taxes. Once the matter is resolved, there is more paperwork to file, such as a Petition for Settlement and Termination of Appointment.
For prompt assistance from an experienced Greenville probate attorney, contact the Anderson Law Firm. We routinely handle matters in Greenville County and nearby jurisdictions.