I have never heard anything about their input or defense since the proceeding started. So, how do I find out about their role, without getting into a legal stew.
There is really nothing humorous about this at all. Rather, I find your response to be both alarming and even pathetic! And you really seem NOT to be either understanding or benefiting from the thoughtful posts of Mr. Roper, t, Bill, George, John, myself and others.
They have explained that when someone fails to answer, that a default judgment can be taken against that person. This applies to everyone named and served with process in the suit.
So if your nieces and nephews, or others, were named and served, and they have failed to answer, then the plaintiff can obtain a default against each and every one of them. For that matter, a default can be taken in an undefended suit even when the plaintiff fails to set forth a meritorious basis for the suit! The default judgment is very difficult to set aside (except where there can be proven a lack of service) and almost impossible to successfully appeal, because ALL defensive arguments are usually deemed to be waived.
Har, har, har! Ha, ha, ha! Isn't that FUNNY!
Similarly, if you were named and served both as executor and individually, two separate and distinct capacities, then you would need to answer and defend in both capacities.
This is not an either / or proposition. If you are named and served as executor and individually and answer only as executor, then the plaintiff may be able to obtain a default against you in your individual capacity. This could extinguish your ownership and leasehold interests in the subject property.
If you are named and served as executor and individually and answer only individually, then the plaintiff may be able to obtain a default against you in your representative capacity as executor. This could extinguish the estate's ownership interests in the subject property and destroy any value in the estate which might otherwise be enjoyed by everyone in the family who is a beneficiary of your mother's estate.
Ha, ha! What a riot!
Moreover, if you fail to answer as executor and allow a default to be taken against the estate when there were viable defenses which could have been or should have been interposed, your nieces and nephews may be able to later sue you for breach of fiduciary duty for failing to defend the estate against this suit.
Whoops! The JOKE IS ON YOU!!
YOU ARE VERY CLEARLY IN WAY OVER YOUR HEAD.
As a non-lawyer, you CANNOT file defensive pleading on behalf of the other heirs. Each must file his or her own answer IF they have been properly named and served. (If they haven't been served, usually in most places, it is better NOT to answer UNLESS the plaintiff falsely represents to the court that service was completed. SEE A LAWYER!!)
As executor, you stand in a fiduciary relation to the other heirs and are REQUIRED to put their interests before your own. It is difficult to imagine a more egregious breach of fiduciary duty than filing an individual answer to a suit against both you and the estate without also filing an answer as executor. That probably qualifies as a breach of fiduciary duty as a matter of law!
In many places, courts have found that administrators and trustees who are non-lawyers CANNOT file a pro se answer on behalf of an estate or trust. YOU NEED TO DISCUSS THIS WITH AN ATTORNEY BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE.
Still, if you cannot find an attorney and both you and the estate lack the resources to employ an attorney, it is probably better to heed Mr. Roper's counsel about the importance of filing an answer and to file a pro se answer as executor before it is too late. It is plausible and even likely that the plaintiff might, by motion, get the pro se answer stricken. But this might still buy you a little time. This MIGHT BE better than doing NOTHING. You ought NOT file anything without first at least discussing this with a lawyer experienced in probate.
IF there is another member of the family with the resources, skill and knowledge (and who has the resources to employ a lawyer) who could act as executor in your place and who would be agreeable to other members of the family, you should explore whether it is possible under NY law to have that person substituted as executor or administrator. It may be better for everyone if the executor is someone else if you cannot or will not employ a lawyer to defend. If you cannot and will not defend as executor or if you intend to pursue a course of action when benefits YOU individually, at the expense of the other heirs, YOU OUGHT TO STAND ASIDE.
If the estate is wholly without any resources, as when the ONLY asset is the subject property, and the mortgage amount exceeds the value of this property, then I certainly understand that it might be foolish to expend money to employ an attorney.
If I was an administrator in such a case, I would be sending letters to ALL of the other heirs explaining the situation and ASKING if anyone wanted to CONTRIBUTE to the voluntary employ of a lawyer to defend against the suit. (I would write this letter very carefully so that it could help me in a suit for breach of duty, but could NOT be used against me in the foreclosure suit. TALK TO A LAWYER!) This would both present an opportunity for others to vocalize any objection to your failing to employ a lawyer to defend and would probably at least somewhat immunize you later to someone bringing another action against you.
I AM UNFAMILIAR WITH PROVISIONS OF NEW YORK LAW RELATING TO DEFICIENCY JUDGMENTS. In general, if a creditor obtains a judgment against a secured creditor and the sale of the asset securing the debt fails to cover the full amount of the debt, then a deficiency judgment can often be obtained. This deficiency might then be applied against other estate assets.
For example, suppose that a mother/grandmother dies and leaves a house to her son, while leaving her grand piano to her eldest granddaughter, her prize show horse to the next eldest granddaughter, her stamp collection to the eldest grandson and her late husband's coin collection to the second grandson.
Further suppose that the house is subject to a mortgage, but that there is minimal equity. The son is named executor. The son also occupies the subject property under a lease.
The mortgage servicer sues the son as both executor and individually as heir, naming all beneficiaries to the estate, who were named as alternative beneficiaries and beneficiaries of the individual bequests as shown. The son answers individually, but fails to answer as executor.
The servicer then obtains a default judgment against the son as executor. THIS IS A JUDGMENT AGAINST THE ESTATE. The subject property is ordered to be SOLD AT AUCTION by a referee (in NY State). When the proceeds of the sale of the property fails to cover the (padded) asserted balance, the servicer further applies to the court for a deficiency judgment. The court then orders the grand piano, the show horse, the stamp collection and the coin collection sold to pay the deficiency.
Now ALL of the intended bequests of the mother are extinguished by the reckless behavior of the son in failing to properly defend the suit. Each grandchild has a valid cause of action against the son for breach of fiduciary duty for failing to answer and defend.
Truly, where the value of the house was close to the amount of the mortgage, the matter probably could have been settled through a negotiated deed in lieu or short sale, which would have at least preserved the grandchildren's bequests.
I emphasize that the precise way such an example plays out is fact dependent and also depends upon some specifics as to statutes and case law of the jurisdiction. It might NOT play out this way in New York State. But this is probably a pretty mainstream example of the potential perils in many places.
I WOULD NEVER WANT TO FIND MYSELF HOLDING A FIDUCIARY ROLE WHERE MY ACTIONS (OR INACTIONS) CAUSED HARM TO OTHERS. You really need to assess the facts, discuss the matter with a lawyer and reconsider whether you are acting in the best interests of those for whom you are acting as a fiduciary! I have little interest in helping you to harm your nieces and nephews through the provision of further suggestions and insight.