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The Surrogate’s Courts in New York are located in the various counties.  There is a Manhattan (New York County) Surrogate’s Court, Queens County Surrogate’s Court, Kings County Surrogate’s Court and so on.  The County courts generally accept filings for estate matters that concern decedents that are domiciled in such county when they die. Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act (“SCPA”) Section 205 provides, in part, in paragraph 1 that “the proper venue for proceedings relating to such estates is the county of the decedent’s domicile at the time of his death“.  Domicile is generally the location where a person has his primary home. See SCPA Section 103(15).

In view of the above provisions, upon the death of a person who has lived for example in Queens County, the proper court to file estate proceedings would be the Queens County Surrogate’s Court.   Such proceedings may be a probate proceeding if the decedent left a Last Will or an Administration proceeding if the person died without a Will (“intestate”).  Generally, if the case is filed in the wrong county the Court will reject it. Continue reading →

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A New York Estate Attorney is familiar with cases where a family member claims that a lifetime transfer of assets or a disposition in a Last Will is the subject of undue influence. Such claims when they arise during the life of a person who is alleged to have been taken advantage of are often the focus of litigation in Article 81 Guardianship Proceedings. These cases are usually filed in the New York State Supreme Court. It is interesting to note that if the Guardianship judge finds that a property transfer was the result of undue influence, pursuant to Mental Hygiene Law 81.29, the Court can void or revoke such transfer. Also, once a Guardian of the Property is appointed for an incapacitated person, the Guardian can commence Court proceedings to recover property that was wrongfully transferred.

After a person has died, a claim of undue influence may be asserted in a Will Contest. Undue influence is one of the grounds upon which a Will can be contested in Surrogate’s Court estate litigation. Continue reading →

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Following a person’s death, a petition may be filed with the Surrogate’s Court for the probate of the decedent’s Last Will. Usually, the person nominated as the Executor in the Will engages a New York Estate Lawyer for representation in the probate proceeding. As discussed in prior posts in this blog, a decedent’s next of kin or distributees must receive notice regarding the probate process. Such distributees may sign a Waiver and Consent which provides that they do not object to the Will. If such consent is not forthcoming, then a Citation needs to be issued by the Court and served upon these potential objectants.

Will Contests and other estate litigation can take a long time to resolve. During the delay in obtaining a resolution of the probate issue, there are many matters concerning an estate that need to be attended to. For example, assets such as bank and stock accounts need to be collected, the decedent’s debts and estate obligations such as estate and income taxes must be paid and other assets such as real estate have to be secured and maintained. Continue reading →

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A New York Estate Plan can involve the preparation and execution of a number of different papers. To begin with, it is important that an individual consider advance planning documents which include a Durable Power of Attorney, a Living Will and a Health Care Proxy. Advance planning allows a person to select the agents that can make property and personal needs decisions and the documents can provide directions and an expression of intent as to the manner in which a persons affairs are to be handled. Additionally, such papers can help avoid the necessity of obtaining the appointment of an Article 81 Guardian.

Another consideration is the creation of a Living Trust which can provide both lifetime and post-death provisions for property disposition. Finally, a Last Will provides for the manner in which a decedent’s administration estate is to be settled and distributed. A Last Will can contain many different types of bequests and can provide for tax planning and the creation of testamentary trusts including the creation of a Supplemental Needs Trust. Continue reading →

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New York Estate Lawyers are aware of the importance of proper estate planning. Such planning may include the preparation of a Last Will, Living Will, Health Care Proxy, Power of Attorney and Living Trust. By creating the above papers a person can identify the individuals that they want to inherit their estate and supervise the disposition of their property and personal affairs.

In the course of estate settlement when a person dies without a Last Will or the creation of a Living Trust, the assets owned in his name may be distributed pursuant to the New York intestacy laws contained in Estates, Powers and Trusts Law (“EPTL”) Section 4-1.1. However, where there are non-marital children, such individuals can inherit from their mother but must provide various forms of proof in order to inherit from their father. The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has discussed this issue in earlier posts. EPTL 4-1.2 entitled “Inheritance by non-marital children” states that inheritance from the non-marital father requires proof in various forms such as an order of filiation. Also, paternity can be shown by clear and convincing evidence from genetic marker testing or that the father “openly and notoriously acknowledged the child as his own. . . .” Continue reading →

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The New York Guardianship Law is contained in Article 81 of the Mental Hygiene Law (“MHL”). As discussed in numerous posts in the New York Probate Lawyer Blog, a Court will appoint a Guardian for an individual’s property management and personal needs if it determines that the person is incapacitated. The Guardianship law serves a very useful purpose in providing a process by which family members or others concerned about someone’s well-being can obtain assistance from the Court to protect a person who is unable to care for themself. There are many situations that can result in an incapacity such as an accident or an illness in the form of a stroke, heart attack or similar occurrence. Incapacity may also result from the onset of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

As noted in earlier posts, proper estate planning, which includes the use of advance directives such as a Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy, Living Will and Living Trust, may avoid the need for a Court appointed Guardian. These advance directives allow a person to select their agents and representatives who are to have the authority to make property management and health care decisions without the need for a Guardianship proceeding and the appointment of a Guardian who may not have been a person’s first choice to handle his affairs. Continue reading →

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A New York Estate Lawyer is familiar with the manner in which a Last Will should be prepared.  Among the fundamental rules when drafting a Will is to make certain that the provisions clearly set forth the manner in which the testator intends to dispose of assets.  The spelling of the names of beneficiaries should be correct along with their relation to the testator, such as a child, brother or friend.   Other provisions  such as those relating to the amount or percentage of a bequest need to be delineated and the terms of any testamentary trust or other instructions should be spelled out to avoid any confusion.

Unfortunately, there are many instances where the language of a Will or a Trust is unclear or ambiguous and estate litigation in the form of a Will construction proceeding is needed to resolve the controversy over the document’s meaning and the proper distribution of estate assets.  In Matter of Romanello, decided by Manhattan Surrogate Nora Anderson on July 17, 2014, the Court was presented with a Last Will that contained a testamentary trust.  Although the Will referred to the trust as a “special need trust fund,” the language of the trust did not comply with Estates, Powers and Trusts Law Section 7-1.12 which is entitled “Supplemental needs trusts established for persons with severe and chronic or persistent disabilities“. Continue reading →

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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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