Court may name executor of Diane Schuler's estate

Warren Hance, left, and Jackie Hance leave a Warren Hance, left, and Jackie Hance leave a funeral Mass for their three girls who died in a crash on the Taconic State Parkway. (July 30, 2009) Photo Credit: Photo by Audrey C. Tiernan

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The West Babylon husband of the wrong-way Taconic State Parkway driver has less than a month to declare himself the administrator of his late wife's estate, or the responsibility could be turned over to a court-appointed executor, court officials said Thursday.

On Monday, in response to a request from the family of two of the crash victims, Suffolk Surrogate's Court John M. Czygier Jr. set a Nov. 17 deadline to legally set up an estate for Diane Schuler. Authorities say she drove drunk and high in the July 26 crash, killing herself and seven others. She drove a minivan 1.7 miles the wrong way before crashing into a sport utility vehicle.

If no one comes forward, Suffolk's Office of the Public Administrator could become the estate's fiduciary, said Franklyn Farris, the public administrator.

The family of Michael Bastardi and his son, Guy Bastardi, both of Yonkers, who were killed in the crash, asked Czygier last month to appoint the administrator because they need an estate overseen by a living person to file a lawsuit, said the family's attorney, Brian Sichol of Suffern.

"I need someone to serve papers on," said Brian Sichol, a Suffern attorney representing the Bastardi family,

Sichol said the Bastardi family plans to sue the owner of the minivan Schuler was driving, Warren Hance, her brother and the father of three young daughters who died in the crash. He said Schuler's estate would be sued for any damages in excess of what is covered by Hance's auto insurance policy.

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The Surrogate's Court request was necessary, Sichol said, because Schuler's husband, Daniel, hasn't probated a will for her. Many widows and widowers don't go to Surrogate's Court, Farris said, because possessions go to a surviving spouse in New York.

Farris said the Bastardi's request was unusual but not unheard of. In most cases like this, he said, the spouse steps forward after being notified by the Surrogate's Court and begins the process of legally administering the estate.

If no one steps forward, the judge could issue "limited letters of administration" making Farris' office the first contact.

"[I]t's in the family interest to come forward," Farris said, adding: "What will happen in this case, I can't predict."

Daniel Schuler's lawyer, Dominic Barbara of Garden City, and the Hance family lawyer, James McCrorie of Manhattan, did not return calls.

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