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A New York Estate Lawyer is familiar with the various provisions of the Estates, Powers and Trusts Law (“EPTL”) and the Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act (“SCPA”) that impact estate planning.  One of the provisions of the law that has caused much controversy over the years concerns the commonly known “no contest clause”.  Section 3-3.5 of the EPTL contains the authority and rules regarding these clauses.  While the statute allows the use of this limiting language in a Will, the statute also provides some limitations.  For example, EPTL 3-3.5 states that the contest provision is not breached when an infant or incompetent opposes probate.  Thus, such individuals do not forfeit their inheritance under the Will.  The statute also allows pre-objection discovery under SCPA 1404 as to the witnesses to the Will, the Will’s preparer, the nominated executor and the proponent without resulting in any loss of beneficiary status under the Will.

In many instances the language of a no-contest clause in a Will may be unclear as to the extent of the conduct resulting in a forfeiture.  An interesting example requiring interpretation of such a clause was presented in Matter of Prevratil  decided by the Appellate Division 3rd Dept. on July 24, 2014.  In Prevratil, a disinherited son filed objections to the probate of a 2011 Will that had made no provision for him.  The son had been the sole beneficiary to an earlier 2006 Will.  The 2011 Will contained a no contest clause.  Since the named executor of the 2011 Will initially refused to petition for its probate, the beneficiaries filed a petition for probate seeking letters of administration.  The disinherited son asserted that the actions by the beneficiaries to have an administrator appointed circumvented the 2011 Will’s named executors and, therefore, amounted to a contest of the Will resulting in their forfeiture of their Will bequests. Continue reading →

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The New York Probate process has been the subject of numerous posts in this blog.   A Last Will that is prepared by a person must be admitted to probate or validated by the Surrogate’s Court so that the provisions of the Will become effective. The decedent’s distributes or next of kin must receive notice of the probate proceeding and they have a right to contest the Will.   Usually, the distributees receive a paper called a Citation, which is like a summons, that advises them as to the date when the probate proceeding is to appear on the Court calendar.   At that time, the distributees can file objections to the Will or ask for preliminary discovery that is allowed by Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act (“SCPA”) Section 1404.

There are many specific rules and procedures that apply to the process of contesting a Will. Some of these requirements have been the subject of recent Surrogate’s Court decisions. In Estate of Basil Constant, decided on June 30, 2014, Bronx Surrogate Nelida Malave-Gonzalez reviewed an application to expand what is known as the “3/2” rule.  This rule is contained in section 207.27 of the New York Uniform Rules for Surrogate’s Court and provides that in connection with an examination before trial (i.e. discovery) such examination is limited to a period of time that is three years before the date of the Will and two years thereafter or the decedent’s date of death, whichever is shorter. While the examination period can be extended by Court Order, the Court needs to find special circumstances to expand the time periods.  In Constant the Court did not allow an expansion of the time periods to allow an inquiry about an earlier Will that the decedent allegedly had made.

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The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has provided numerous posts discussing the need to identify, protect and collect estate assets.  One of the fundamental obligations of an estate fiduciary such as an Executor or Administrator is to make certain that property belonging to the decedent is available for the benefit of estate beneficiaries.  As discussed in earlier posts, a decedent may have owned assets of various types such as bank accounts, real estate, stocks and bonds.  However, interests in other types of assets such as intellectual property rights, copyrights, trademarks and business interests need to be secured, as well.  There have been a few recent reports detailing the efforts made to obtain estate protection for these less common variety of property interests.

In a post by Eriq Gardner on June 2, 2014 in the HollywoodReporter.com entitled “Here’s the Lawsuit Claiming Led Zeppelin Stole ‘Stairway to Heaven’, it is reported that heirs of a guitarist and songwriter have filed a copyright infringement claim against the Led Zeppelin rock group. The lawsuit, which dates back to events occurring 43 years ago, asserts that the Led Zeppelin group wrongfully used guitar music previously created by the claimant to write the iconic “Stairway to Heaven”.

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New York Guardianship cases, like those in other states, control issues regarding persons who are incapacitated within the jurisdiction of the local State Court. Mental Hygiene Law (“MHL”) 81.05 provides that a Guardianship proceeding shall be commenced in the county where the person alleged to be incapacitated (AIP) resides or is physically located. Generally, if an AIP or a person who has been found to be incapacitated (IP) physically moves to another state, a proceeding in the new state needs to be commenced for a guardianship appointment. Since Guardianship appointment jurisdiction has historically been local, families have faced tremendous hardship and confusion when an AIP or IP moves or is taken from state to state.

The New York Probate Lawyer Blog recently discussed a new law contained in Article 83 of the MHL that allows New York to participate with other states in transferring or accepting out of state guardianships. Thus, under the new law, a New York Court may accept a proceeding for a guardian that is transferred from another state. See MHL 83.33. Continue reading →

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In New York it is very common that a person will own a cooperative or condominium apartment. The rights to the apartment may be part of a decedent’s administration estate where the decedent was the sole owner of the unit. In cases where the unit is held jointly, the ownership interest would pass automatically to the joint owner.

When a cooperative or condominium unit becomes a part of the estate, the Executor or Administrator is responsible for maintaining and disposing of the unit. Thus, monthly common charges and maintenance must be paid. Additionally, the unit may be subject to other issues. For example, the actor Philip Seymour Hoffman recently died in February 2014. At the time of his death the actor owned a condominium unit in the West Village. As reported at NYdailynews.com in an article by Barbara Ross on June 5, 2014, another unit owner sued the late actor’s estate alleging that a flood from the actor’s apartment caused extensive damage to their unit. Continue reading →

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A Guardian appointed under Article 81 of the New York Mental Hygiene Law (“MHL”) has many duties and responsibilities. As discussed in earlier posts in the New York Probate Lawyer Blog, an appointment can be for a Property Management Guardian and for a Personal Needs Guardian. Property Management guardian powers are set forth in MHL Section 81.21 and the personal needs powers are found in MHL Section 81.22.

Generally, when an incapacitated person dies, the authority of a Guardian ends. However, the administration responsibilities of a Guardian may continue in many forms depending upon the circumstances of the Guardianship.   MHL Section 81.44 entitled “Proceedings upon the death of incapacitated person” sets out a number of rules. According to the statute a “statement of death” must be sent by the Guardian to the Court Examiner and to the estate personal representative. This representative would be an Executor or Administrator. Additionally, the Guardian must file a final account with the Court within 150 days after the death of the incapacitated person. Continue reading →

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The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has provided a number of posts concerning the rights of a person’s next of kin to inherit or have an interest in an estate. New York Estate Attorneys are aware that local statutes provide protections and rights to a decedent’s surviving spouse. For example, pursuant to Estates, Powers and Trusts Law (“EPTL”) Section 4-1.1 a surviving spouse can claim the amount of $50,000 plus one-half of an estate if there are also surviving issue. Additionally, under EPTL 5-1.1-A a spouse who is disinherited under a Will can claim a spousal share of generally one-third of the estate.

While in most instances there is no dispute as to whether a certain individual is actually the spouse of a decedent, there are many cases where the legal status of a spouse is called into question. When spousal rights are disputed, there is typically estate litigation to determine what rights, if any, a person claiming to be a spouse may be entitled to. A couple of recent cases demonstrate issues that a Court may be called upon to resolve. Continue reading →

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A Power of Attorney in New York is provided by the statutory provisions in Title 15 of the General Obligations Law (GOL Sec. 5-1501 et. seq).   A Power of Attorney (“POA”) can be a very useful estate planning document during life by providing a means by which a person can delegate property management authority to an agent to be used in the event of disability or incapacity.   Section 15-1501A of the GOL provides that a POA is considered to be durable and that it is not revoked or terminated if the principal becomes incapacitated.

There are numerous cases where an agent has abused his authority under a POA.   Article 81 Guardianship proceedings often involve issues regarding the validity and proper use of a POA.  Similarly, these types of issues can arise during the course of estate settlement. After an executor or administrator is appointed for a decedent’s estate the fiduciary may discover that someone improperly utilized a POA during the decedent’s lifetime.   When this occurs estate litigation is commenced by the fiduciary to recover the decedent’s assets that were wrongfully taken or transferred by the use of the POA. Continue reading →

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The preparation of a Last Will, Living Will, Health Care Proxy, Power of Attorney and Living Trust involves a full understanding of a person’s property and financial interests.   A New York Estate Planning Lawyer generally obtains all such information from a client when formulating a plan. This process is very important whether a person’s affairs are simple or complex.

The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has had numerous posts discussing the need for a person to understand the nature of the assets owned in order for an estate plan to be properly prepared.   For example, a Last Will typically controls the disposition of assets that are owned by a person in his name alone. However, assets that are owned jointly with another person such as a joint bank account or assets where there is a designated beneficiary such as a life insurance policy, are transferred upon death to the named joint owner or beneficiary and are not controlled by a Last Will. Therefore, it is imperative to know which assets a Last Will can control for a plan to be properly formulated. Continue reading →

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Controversies are not uncommon during the course of administering an estate. New York estate lawyers are familiar with the Surrogate’s Court procedures involved with such matters. Executors and Administrators have the fiduciary obligation to protect the interests of the estate in connection with all disputes regarding the decedent. A few recent cases highlight the different types of lawsuits that an estate may be involved with.

Matter of Elena Duke Benedict  involved the determination of the validity of a claim against an estate.  In this matter, trustees of certain trusts created by the decedent asserted that the decedent’s estate owed the trusts monies that were borrowed from the trusts by the decedent during her lifetime. The claim was based upon promissory notes that were signed by the decedent. Although the executor opposed the claim, in a decision dated May 8, 2014 Westchester Surrogate Anthony Scarpino found that the claim was valid and enforceable against the estate. Continue reading →

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