Q&A: What are my rights for inheriting a co-op apartment?

Q. This is a very common age-old question in a cooperative. What are my rights for inheriting a co-op apartment if the unit owner unfortunately dies? If a unit owner is deceased and the property is turned over to the estate, what are rights of a relative, for example, let's say the apartment owner’s siblings, to allow them to move in and take actual possession? What happens if there is no will transferring ownership?

            —Cooperative Hand-Me-Down

A. “There are several issues that have to be examined to determine who succeeds to the rights of a free market cooperative apartment,” says Stephen M. Lasser, managing partner of the Manhattan-based law firm of Lasser Law Group. 

“The first step is examining the deceased owner’s stock certificate to determine if anyone else has an ownership interest in the stock (and appurtenant proprietary lease).  If there are additional owners listed on the stock certificate, how the stock will be disposed of upon the death of one of the owners will depend on whether the stock is owned as tenants by the entirety (applies only to husbands and wives), joint-tenants with rights of survivor-ship or tenants-in-common.  If the stock was owned as tenants by the entirety or joint-tenants with rights of survivor-ship, the surviving owner would take title to the stock, and the stock would not become part of the decedent’s estate.  If the stock was owned as tenants-in common, the decedent’s interest in the stock would become part of the decedent’s estate.

“Assuming the decedent owned the stock by himself or herself or as a tenant-in-common, the stock would have to be disposed of in accordance with the decedent’s will.  If the decedent has no will, then a relative who would inherit the stock pursuant to New York’s intestacy law could file a petition with the Surrogate’s Court to be appointed the administrator of the estate.  Once appointed by the Surrogate’s Court, the administrator of the estate can dispose of the stock in accordance with New York intestacy law. Generally speaking, New York intestacy law provides that the first $50,000.00 worth of property is distributed to a surviving spouse and the remaining property is split between the surviving spouse and any children.  If there is no surviving spouse, all of the property would pass to the children.  If there is no surviving spouse or children, the next in line to inherit are the decedent’s parents followed by the decedent’s siblings.

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