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A Good New York Estate Plan is Important to Prevent Contests of a Will That May Occur in Unusual Ways

New York Estate Planning Lawyers are familiar with the fundamentals that form a good estate plan. Preparing and executing a Last Will and Testament provides a written declaration as to the disposition of a person’s probate estate. A Will can be made up of various provisions some of which can give specific assets or amounts to named beneficiaries while other parts of the Will may contain bequests in percentages for a number of individuals. Additionally, a Last Will might have clauses that create trusts for minors or provide estate tax planning that might result in many dollars of savings.

In addition to a Last Will, other estate planning documents include a Living Will, Health Care Proxy, Power of Attorney and Living Trusts. All of these testamentary and advance directive papers allow a person to carefully plan their estate and future care by implementing a roadmap reflecting their intentions and naming the Executors, Trustees and Agents who will carry out their instructions.

In many instances, however, a person’s attempt to plan their estate may be met with contests and controversy. It is not uncommon for a testator to disinherit a close relative such as a child. It was recently reported in Examiner.com on March 25, 2013 by Joann Scheffler that the famous hair stylist, Vidal Sassoon, disinherited one of his sons. While Vidal Sassoon died in Los Angeles, New York allows a person to completely disinherit a child or anyone else except that a surviving spouse has a right under Estates, Powers and Trusts Law Section 5-1.1-A to elect to take a share of a decedent’s estate. Many times when a person who is a distribute (next of kin), such as a child, is disinherited, the result is a contested estate or a Will contest with claims of undue influence or lack of testamentary capacity. A solidly prepared and executed Last Will and estate planning papers are imperative to defeat attacks by disgruntled relatives who expected but did not receive a large inheritance.

The desire to control the disposition of estate or trust assets can sometimes lead to rather extreme actions. A Florida multi-millionaire, John Goodman, recently adopted his 42 year old girlfriend. It appears that Mr. Goodman had been convicted of drunken driving and was facing a prison sentence and civil damages. By adopting his girlfriend it appears that Mr. Goodman would allow her to receive a large share of his trust fund that would have gone to his two other children. In the article by Beth Stebner that appeared in Mail Online on March 28, 2013, it was reported that the children had contested the adoption and that an Appeals Court in Florida voided the adoption as fraudulent and having no purpose.

An even more extreme example of an attempt to control an estate distribution was reported in The Northern Echo on March 27, 2013. It seems that a man who was the sole beneficiary under his parents’ Will sought to accelerate his inheritance by first failing to kill his mother and father in a fake road accident and then succeeding in having them die after he shot them in their home. In New York, a person who murders another to receive an inheritance is not allowed by the Courts to profit from their wrongdoing and they are disqualified from receiving their ill gotten gains.

While the above examples of actions to control an inheritance are not common, the important point is that an individual concerned with ensuring the proper disposition of his estate should obtain advice regarding New York Estate Planning. There is really no substitute for preparing an appropriate Will and other planning papers to minimize the likelihood of contests and controversy over an inheritance.


New York City Trusts and Estates Lawyer Jules Martin Haas, Esq. has been representing clients in Probate and Estate Administration proceedings throughout the past 30 years. He is available to help residents in many areas, including Manhattan, Queens 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 or e-mail me at jules.haas@verizon.net.

Jules Martin Haas provides his clients and members of the community with a free monthly e-newsletter which contains articles covering a variety of legal topics including estate planning, financial matters and real estate. If you wish to be placed on the e-newslist, simply e-mail me at jules.haas@verizon.net. You can cancel receiving the newsletter at anytime.

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