Did You Know That New York Will Contests Require Factual Evidence to Succeed

Probating a Will in New York requires strict adherence to statutory and procedural rules.  The primary source of authority is the Estates, Powers and Trusts Law and the Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act.

When a person dies and leaves a Last Will, there are many instances when family members or friends may feel that the provisions in the document do not reflect the decedent’s true desires or intentions.   The immediate reaction is to speculate that the Will is the subject of some impropriety.

However, New York estate lawyers who are involved in estate litigation in the Surrogate’s Court know that contesting a Will requires an analysis of various factors and elements.  The New York Probate Lawyer Blog contains many articles concerning probate law.

A recent Manhattan estate case involved a decision by Manhattan Surrogate Rita Mella. In Matter of Estate of Levick, decided on November 5, 2018, Surrogate Mella dismissed Objections that were filed regarding a decedent who had been a real estate attorney.  The decedent changed his Will about one-year before died and after he learned that he had cancer.  The Objectant was the decedent’s son from a prior marriage.

It is not uncommon for children or relatives from an earlier matrimonial arrangement to feel left out when a more recent Will benefits a second family.  While there may be grounds for finding a Will invalid where it is prepared close to death and when a person is suffering from a critical illness, the estate rules require that certain criteria be followed.  For example, in Levick, the Court found that the document was properly executed.  EPTL section 3-2.1 entitled “Execution and attestation of wills; formal requirements” sets forth provisions that provide for two witnesses and a written paper and other formalities.  The Court noted that the attorney who drafted the Will and supervised its execution confirmed compliance with the statutory requirements.

The Objectant had also asserted that the Will was invalid due to undue influence.  However, the Court found that the evidence regarding the actual exercise of such undue influence was lacking.  There was also insufficient facts to show that the decedent was reliant on the parties who benefited under the Will or that such persons abused any trust that the decedent had placed in them.

I have represented both petitioners and Objectants in Will Contests.  These cases can be very involved because the facts and circumstances concern relations between the decedent and many parties such as attorneys, doctors, friends and relatives.  Call me now for a free review if you have an issue regarding probate or a Contested Will.  We offer reasonable and flexible fee arrangements.

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 Brooklyn and Manhattan.   If you or someone you know has any questions regarding these matters, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 for an initial consultation.

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