A recent column by Cindy Adams in New York Post on October 16, 2017 discusses the death of entertainer, Jerry Lewis and a person named Suzan who claims to be his illegitimate child. According to the article, Lewis never acknowledged Suzan as his child. Lewis also made no provision for her in his Last Will when he died in August 2017.
If Lewis had been a New York domiciliary, Suzan would have had to make a claim of paternity in the Surrogate’s Court proceedings where Lewis’ Will was offered for probate. As a distributee or next of kin of Lewis, Suzan then would have had a right to contest Lewis’ Will. However, since Suzan’s kinship status was in doubt, the probate court would have first been required to determine if she had standing to file Objections to the Will.The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has discussed many issues concerning the proof of kinship. Kinship hearings require very definitive evidence before kinship can be established. Even assuming that Suzan could have provided sufficient proof to the Court that she was Lewis’ child, it is very difficult to contest a Will. In New York, a decedent has the absolute right to disinherit a child. Unlike a spouse who has an absolute statutory right to receive an elective share of a decedent’s estate in the approximate amount of one-third (⅓), children have no such benefits under the local estate laws.
Therefore, Suzan would have had to demonstrate that any Last Will that Lewis left was invalid due to improper execution, undue influence, fraud, duress or some other appropriate ground. Proving that a Will that was prepared by an attorney and executed under attorney supervision can be very difficult.
Over the many years I have represented clients in estate litigation matters, I have been involved with many cases where a person’s kinship is an important issue. In a situation like Suzan’s, if Lewis had desired to benefit her despite any questions concerning kinship, Lewis could have made specific provisions for Suzan in his Last Will. While kinship cases and Will contests can be complex, a client’s rights and claims can be advocated for in the Surrogate’s Courts.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding kinship or a Will Contest or other probate matters, call or email me now for a free review. New York Trusts and Estates Attorney Jules Martin Haas has helped many clients over the past 30 years resolve issues relating to probate and estate settlement throughout New York City including Manhattan and Brooklyn. If you or someone you know has any questions regarding these matters, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 for an initial consultation.