New York Last Will Endures for Half Century, Leaves Second Wife out of Estate

A New York Appeal’s Court ruling offers a stark reminder of the power of a Will or other estate planning document and the need to seek the advice of a New York City probate lawyer when settling estate issues.

A New York physician left an estate of $28 million dollars upon his death in June 2006, which relatives thought would be divided in accordance with New York law governing intestate estates. Intestate estates are estates which have no Last Will to govern their disbursement and are, therefore, divided in accordance with New York law. As we reported in our New York Probate Lawyer Blog, intestate law would divide the estate among a decedent’s closest living relatives, beginning with a wife who would receive half the estate.

In this case, the physician’s first wife died in 1981. His daughters sought to probate a purported Will executed in 1958. The document was witnessed by the physician’s attorney and two employees of his medical office. The Will left the vast majority of the estate to the decedent’s children and also to his first wife who had predeceased him.

The Court could find no material issue of fact that would exclude the Will and, therefore, admitted it to probate. The second wife appealed. The appeals Court upheld the ruling of the lower Court and the Will was admitted to probate despite being written more than a quarter-century before the physician’s second marriage.

This case is an example of the complications that can arise form the failure to update a Last Will and properly plan for the division of an estate. Here, the decedent had an estate valued at $28 million and had outlived his first wife by 25 years. Yet, he had apparently done little or no estate planning in the past half century that would have provided for the death of his first wife and his remarriage. An estate plan can provide peace of mind, tax savings and the knowledge that your estate will be distributed in accordance with your wishes and that your loved ones will be cared for in your absence. A Last Will should be reviewed and updated to reflect the current status of a person’s relationships and plan.

New York City Probate Attorney Jules Martin Haas handles all types of probate cases, including Wills, estate planning, estate settlement, advanced directives and guardianship matters. Please call me at (212) 355-2575 for a free consultation to discuss your rights.

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