Matter of the Estate of Ranftle v. Leiby
Case defending a man’s right to the estate of his deceased spouse with New York’s long-standing law respecting out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples.
For nearly 20 years, Ken Ranftle and Craig Leiby, 56, shared a life together. They married in Montreal on June 7, 2008, shortly after Gov. David Paterson issued the directive instructing all state agencies to respect the marriages of same-sex couples legally performed in other jurisdictions. Several months after their marriage, Ranftle, 65, passed away. Before his death, Ranftle had executed a will naming Leiby executor and leaving the bulk of his estate to his spouse, along with smaller bequests to each of his three brothers.
As the executor of the estate, Leiby filed a petition for probate on December 12, 2008, to start the process of carrying out his spouse's wishes under the will and making the distributions Ranftle had wanted for Leiby and the brothers. Leiby correctly listed himself on the probate petition as Ranftle's surviving spouse. As such, he is the only person entitled to be a party to the probate proceeding.
Ranftle's brother, Richard, filed an Order to Show Cause and Petition seeking to vacate the decree of the Surrogate Court, claiming that Leiby was not his brother's spouse and that New York does not respect the out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples. As was argued in Leiby's defense in court, Ranftle's brother was following an apparent strategy to position himself to challenge the will and leave Leiby without the financial security Ranftle had wanted for him. The Surrogate Court rejected Richard's attack on the marriage, agreeing that Leiby is Ranftle's surviving spouse and allowing probate to proceed.
Richard appealed to the intermediate New York appellate court. On February 24, 2011, that court ruled in Leiby's favor, holding that Richard Ranftle's efforts to have his brother's marriage disrespected were "patently without merit." This decision confirms that out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples are entitled to respect in New York for purposes of inheritance and succession rights, bringing important security to same-sex married couples.
- October 2010 Lambda Legal filed a brief in the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division, First Department in response to an appeal by Ranftle's brother.
- February 2011 The New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division, First Department upheld a lower court decision confirming that Leiby is Ranftle's surviving spouse and must be treated as such under the inheritance laws.