New York Multiple Wills Can Present Probate Problems

Estate planning in New York involves the preparation of a number of documents including a Last Will and Testament. It is not unusual that during the course of a lifetime a person prepares and executes a series of Wills.

It is a common practice that a Will should be updated periodically. There are many reasons for such updates. It may be that early versions of a Will contain trust and guardianship provisions for a person’s minor children. Once the children have grown older there would no need for these provisions. In this regard, a person’s testamentary plan and intentions may change over time. A testator can change the dispositive provision of his Will as many times as desired. Sometimes the individuals named as beneficiaries may predecease the testator or need to be eliminated due to personal preferences.

This is also the case with individuals who are selected to be executors or trustees. The testator may change his mind as to whom he would want to handle his affairs.  While there is nothing wrong with changing a Will through new versions, there may be problems when it comes time to probate a decedent’s Will. One reoccurring problem is when a person attempts to probate a Last Will that is earlier in date than the very Last Will that was executed by the decedent. In these cases, there is a war between the validity of the competing Wills.

Generally, the Surrogate’s Court first considers the validity of the Will that is the latest in time. All earlier versions are placed on hold pending the probate of the latest Will. However, the Court procedures in dealing with this issue can be complex. Such complexity was recently examined in a case decided by Manhattan Surrogate Rita Mella on November 6, 2017 entitled Estate of Kronik. In Kronik, a Will dated in 1976 was filed with the Court and offered for probate. Although the decedent had apparently signed a late Will in 2000, the only Court action taken by the persons interested in the 2000 Will was to object to the 1976 Will.

The Court pointed out that the persons interested in the 2000 Will needed to file a cross-petition to have the 2000 Will probated. They could not just expect that the petitioners seeking to probate the 1976 Will disprove the validity of the 2000 Will. The Court indicated that it was the burden of the persons wanting to probate the 2000 Will to actively seek its validity.

I have represented many individuals in cases where there are multiple Wills being filed for probate with the Surrogate’s Court. If you have a question regarding the probate of a Will or multiple Wills, call me now for a free review.

New York Trust and Estate attorney Jules Martin Haas, Esq. has been representing clients in Surrogate’s Court and estate administration in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn throughout the past 30 years. If you or someone you know is involved with or has questions about Estate Settlement, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 for an initial consultation.


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