Liu unhappy with KCPA
By Charisma L. Miller, Esq.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
New York City Comptroller John Liu’s office conducted an audit of the Kings County Public Administrator (KCPA) and found that the KCPA mishandled many of the estates under its supervision as well as uncovering more than $2.6 million in stolen funds.
The KCPA, which is given most of its powers through Article 11 of the New York State Surrogate’s Court Procedures Act, is responsible for administering the estates of individuals in Brooklyn who die intestate, or without a will. The KCPA also handles estates when there is no individual qualified or willing to administer the estate.
As the administrator of an estate, the KCPA is generally responsible for locating the deceased’s assets and distributing them to the appropriate heirs, as well as liquidating any remaining assets to pay the deceased’s outstanding debts and taxes. In sum, the KCPA’s goal is to protect the deceased’s property from going to waste and to ensure that inheritances and debts and satisfied. Liu’s office says these tasks were poorly and inefficiently executed.
“KCPA failed to properly carry out its fiduciary responsibilities because it did not act in the best interests of estates,” the June 28 audit report stated. In particular, the audit says that the KCPA “did not properly document expenses paid from decedents’ estates … approved excessive [legal] counsel fees,” and did not maintain “reliable and efficient” systems for estate tracking and accounting.
KCPA Bruce Stein adamantly defended his office. Responding to the charge of excessive legal fees, for instance, Stein replied that the fee structure for counsel fees had been in place since 2008 and was used by other counties throughout New York. In fact, Stein asserted, the Office of Court Administration (OCA) adjusted the counsel fee structure in recently released new guidelines.
Liu found that assertion unsatisfactory, noting that the KCPA and not the OCA is “responsible for substantively reviewing and approving estate expenses — including legal counsel fees. Accordingly, KCPA should have ensured that such expenses were authorized and appropriate. “
Stein refused to comment on the indictment of a KCPA bookkeeper for allegedly stealing more than $2.6 million from decedents’ estates between August 2008 and November 2011 except to say that the discovery of the theft was due to Stein’s noticing a suspicious check, and that it was Stein’s office that reported the issue to the Department of Investigation.
Liu countered that the Stein “may have prevented rather than detected the reported misappropriation of funds” had he instituted internal controls.
Liu’s office submitted 18 recommendations to the KCPA, a significant number of which the KCPA declined to comment on.