Main | Thursday, February 05, 2009

NY Man Wins Inheritance Rights To Partner's Estate

In the first case of its kind, a New York judge has ruled that the surviving partner of a gay couple married in Canada has the right to inherit his deceased partner's estate.

Recognizing the validity of a same-sex marriage between New Yorkers contracted in Canada, a Manhattan surrogate has ruled that a man is entitled to inherit the entire estate of his deceased male partner. Surrogate Judge Kristin Booth Glen last week in Matter of the Estate of H. Kenneth Ranftle, 4585-2008, designated J. Craig Leiby as the "surviving spouse and sole distributee" of H. Kenneth Ranftle, who died on Nov. 1, 2008, just five months after the pair married in Quebec.

Her decision comes 4 1/2 months after Queens Surrogate Robert L. Nahman took a more cautious approach in holding that the validity of gay marriage had not been "definitely determined." Nahman ruled that the deceased partner's parents had to be included in probate proceedings. By contrast, Glen determined that Ranftle's three siblings were not entitled to notification of the probate proceedings under Surrogate's Court Procedure Act ยง1403(1)(a). She cited the Feb. 1, 2008, decision of Martinez v. County of Monroe, 50 AD3d 189, in which the Appellate Division, 4th Department, ordered Monroe County to extend health insurance coverage to the same-sex spouse of a female employee working at a community college.

The New York Court of Appeals has ruled that same-sex marriage is not valid if contracted in New York. But the court in Martinez held that, with a few exceptions, state agencies should recognize marriages solemnized in Canada, Massachusetts and other states where it is legal. Gov. David A. Paterson also has instructed state agencies to recognize such marriages.

IMPORTANT: While the deceased partner's family was supportive of his marriage and did not contest the will, this case sets the precedent in New York state that biological family members may not contest the validity of same-sex marriages in order to gain inheritance rights.

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