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Beneficiaries Blog Inmates

Prisoners as Interested Parties in Surrogate’s Court Proceedings

Stock Vector illustration of a man lock up in prison

{Read in 3 Minutes}  As a Trust and Estates attorney, I am in Surrogate’s Court quite often. Within the estate proceedings the Court routinely handles, sometimes there will be an interested party who happens to be incarcerated — either for a short time or for the rest of their lives. So, what happens when an inmate is an interested party to a proceeding, and what happens if an inmate is due to inherit money?

Anyone can be a beneficiary listed in a Will or a beneficiary listed on a beneficiary designation form (for example, on either a retirement account or life insurance policy). When an incarcerated individual is a beneficiary and entitled to an inheritance, they are entitled to receive it. However, when an inmate inherits money, there are three things that one should note:

•First — if there are victims of that inmate’s crimes, they may be entitled to recover a portion of those funds. The New York State Office of Victim Services will often require a notice to their office in advance of making a distribution to an incarcerated person so that they can notify the victims and see if any claimants come forward. If they do, the Office of Victim Services may appear in the Surrogate’s Court proceeding and advocate for a different distribution of some, or all, of the inheritance.

•Second — New York’s Son of Sam law which, as the name suggests, was created in response to the notorious serial killer of the 1970s, David Berkowitz, and the fear that he could profit from his crimes by selling the rights to his story to a book publisher or movie producer.

•Third — Keep in mind the New York Slayer Statute. If the inmate in question is incarcerated because they murdered the decedent who is the subject of the Estate, the inmate is not entitled to any inheritance.

What happens when an incarcerated person is entitled to Notice or a Citation? What will happen is that the Petitioner will need to notify the warden of the facility in which the inmate is residing and also serve the inmate with the Citation. In that situation, the court may also appoint a Guardian Ad Litem to protect the inmate’s interests as they are simply unable to appear in the courthouse themselves.

For more information on this topic, please contact me.