LOCKPORT – The side job of administering the estates of people who die without leaving wills has been far less lucrative for Niagara County Treasurer Kyle R. Andrews than for his predecessor.
In three years in office, Andrews has collected $11,450 in commissions, he reported last week.
His predecessor, David S. Broderick, paid the county more than that just to settle a state investigation of alleged self-dealing in how he processed estates.
In a June 2011 agreement that included the $17,000 settlement, Broderick also acknowledged to state auditors that he collected $306,415 in commissions on estates between 2003 and 2008.
Asked why he’s not amassing commissions like Broderick did, Andrews shrugged: “I administer the estates that come before us.” He said he has closed 22 estates or trusts and has 29 currently unfinished.
A state investigation, requested by County Judges Sara Sheldon Farkas and Matthew J. Murphy III, showed that Broderick’s wife, Jane, had collected more than $10,000 in commissions on real estate her husband assigned her to sell. Also, Broderick assigned some legal work on estates to his brother William, an attorney.
On Jan. 1, a new set of state guidelines took effect. Andrews said that in some ways, the state rules are more lenient than the county policies Farkas and Murphy imposed after the Broderick case, in their role as judges of Niagara County Surrogate’s Court.
For example, the state doesn’t require an independent appraisal of real estate before it is sold, while the county judges did. Andrews said, “Where feasible, I still do have real property appraised prior to listing it with a [Multiple Listing Service] Realtor.”
But the state rules made illegal some of Broderick’s old practices. For example, no outside vendor may be related to the administrator. His staff members and their spouses, parents and children also are barred from such estate work.
Andrews said he advertises every year for such vendors. “It’s been a pretty good process for me. Every year, the list of vendors gets a little more robust,” he said.
Attorneys who work for Andrews must take a flat $500 to close real estate sales. He said the going rate in the Lockport area seems to be $650.
Vendors are paid from the estate, as is Andrews, whose commission is based on a scale set in state law, pegged to the total value of the estate.
Andrews said he writes a personal check to the county for 20 percent of the commission, a practice he started when he succeeded Broderick, and which the County Legislature made mandatory in September 2010.
Andrews, showing a reporter photocopies of those checks, said he has paid the county $2,862 since taking office.
“We said three years ago we were going to be open and transparent about the public administrator function in county government, and we’re doing that,” Andrews said.
One of the public administrator’s main roles is recovering Social Services liens on the estates he supervises.
In the last five years of Broderick’s tenure, he recovered $226,707. Since Andrews took office, he has recovered $64,198 for Social Services.
Andrews also says he uses social media to find missing heirs. Facebook comes in handy for that, he said.