After Husband’s Death, New York Court Substitutes His Estate in Post-Divorce Proceeding

By OptimumPx (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsA New York appellate court in Brooklyn recently ruled that a woman could substitute the estate of her deceased ex-husband in a post-divorce proceeding to determine an equitable distribution of property. The executor of the estate objected, claiming that the court actions ended with the husband’s death. The trial court disagreed and granted the wife’s motion. The appellate court affirmed that order in May 2015 in Charasz v. Rozenblum.

The unusual case essentially began when the husband filed for divorce in July 2010. The wife counterclaimed for divorce soon afterwards. The parties had three children, who were approximately 13, 10, and seven at the time the divorce case started. While the case was pending, the husband was diagnosed with advanced stage brain cancer in May 2012. The court granted a divorce for the husband on the ground of constructive abandonment several months later, but it reserved the division of property and other economic issues. A lengthy trial followed, beginning in late 2012 and ending in about February 2013.

After the trial ended, the husband removed the wife and children as beneficiaries on a life insurance policy and several investment accounts, reportedly worth a total of about $5 million. He designated his mother, sister, and the executor of his estate as beneficiaries, in violation of the court’s order. On March 21, 2013, before the court entered a judgment in the case, the husband committed suicide.

The wife moved to substitute the husband’s estate as a party in the ongoing divorce proceeding. She alleged that the husband’s suicide was intended to put his assets under the control of his estate, and therefore out of the court’s reach, in order to deny her and the children a share of the life insurance policy and other assets. The trial court granted the motion to substitute, finding that, while it could not explain the husband’s decision to take his own life, it could find that he knew the consequences with regard to the ongoing divorce proceeding. The executor of the estate had argued that the husband’s death abated the divorce case, so there was no proceeding in which to substitute the estate.

The appellate court rejected the executor’s argument and affirmed the trial court’s ruling. Since the trial court had already adjudicated the divorce and held a trial on the economic issues, the court held, all that was left was for it to perform the “mere ministerial act of entering the final judgment.” The divorce case was therefore not abated by the husband’s death because it was, essentially, already resolved. The only remaining issue was keeping the assets of the estate within the court’s jurisdiction. The court also noted that an action for equitable distribution, if brought separately from a divorce case, would not abate upon a spouse’s death, since the property and property rights would remain.

A proceeding for divorce in New York City requires careful planning and preparation. An experienced divorce attorney who understands New York law and knows the court system can guide you through the process. You should seek a lawyer’s assistance as soon as possible in order to better understand your rights and obligations, and to protect your assets. For the past 30 years, Ingrid Gherman has practiced family law in New York City. To schedule a confidential consultation with a member of our team, contact us today online or at (212) 941-0767.

More Blog Posts:

Same-Sex Divorce Presents Unique Difficulties Due to Conflicts Between Laws in New York and Other States, New York Divorce Attorney Blog, April 28, 2015

Husband Seeks Summary Judgment in New York Divorce Case; Appellate Court Explains Why He Cannot Do That, New York Divorce Attorney Blog, March 24, 2015

Appellate Court Affirms Denial of Motion to Voluntarily Discontinue New York Divorce Case on First Day of Trial, New York Divorce Attorney Blog, March 13, 2015

Photo credit: By OptimumPx (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.