Estate settlement may involve complex issues regarding a decedent. Many of the articles appearing in the New York Probate Lawyer Blog discuss issues concerning the probate of a Last Will and Testament or the appointment of an administrator of an intestate estate. Probate and administration proceedings can take many months and involve Will contests, kinship determinations and disputes regarding the qualifications of a possible executor or administrator.
It should be recognized that the appointment of an estate fiduciary is just one phase involved in settling an estate. Once a fiduciary takes office, there are many other issues which may need to be resolved. These matters may involve extensive Surrogate’s Court litigation or disputes which are filed in other Courts. Such controversies may involve claims against a decedent arising out of a business or creditor claims.
An interesting dispute emanating from an estate was recently the subject of a lawsuit in Manhattan Supreme Court. Castellotti v. Free was a lawsuit in which the decedent (the parties’ mother) died, leaving a substantial estate. Before death, it appears that the decedent’s son was involved in a divorce. The decedent, who disliked the son’s spouse and wanted to prevent the spouse from sharing in any part of the decedent’s estate, took part in an oral arrangement whereby the decedent changed her Will to leave her entire estate to her daughter. There was an oral agreement whereby after the divorce was completed, the daughter would transfer 50% of the mother’s estate assets and proceeds to her brother. While there were additional terms to the oral agreement, the 50/50 arrangement was the centerpiece of the oral contract. As can be anticipated, after the mother’s death, the daughter allegedly failed to comply with the oral agreement and failed to transfer estate assets to her brother. As a result, the brother commenced a lawsuit against his sister to enforce the oral agreement.