Estate litigation in the Surrogate’s Court is common. There are many different types of proceedings where parties engage in conflict. Probably the most well-known area of litigation in an estate is a Will Contest. When a Will is contested and Objections to probate are filed, there can be many months and sometimes years of Court proceedings regarding the validity of a Will.
Another well-known area of dispute involves Accountings that are filed by an estate fiduciary such as an Executor or Administrator. Beneficiaries of estates and trusts often have Objections to the manner in which a fiduciary has collected or handled estate assets. In these cases there are usually questions regarding a breach of a fiduciary duty.Disputes also arise concerning the appointment of administrators or executors. There may be issues regarding the kinship of a possible administrator such as whether a person who is an alleged surviving spouse was actually married to a decedent. Questions may also be raised regarding the qualifications of a proposed fiduciary.
When litigation occurs in the Surrogate’s Court, more often than not, the parties ultimately resolve their problems through a settlement. A negotiated settlement may occur towards the outset of a case or may not happen until a case is ready for a trial. In either scenario, the Court always encourages parties to settle matters and attempts to provide guidance to all of the participants to facilitate settlement. This is especially so where the outcome of a case may be uncertain and the cost and time expenditure for the parties may be excessive.
Since the Court encourages settlements, these agreements are typically upheld when one of the parties tries to undo a settlement that they had personally agreed to. Where someone is asking that a signed settlement agreement be set aside, they must present very compelling facts and reasons to show why they should not be bound by the agreement that they previously approved.
A recent Queens Estate case decided by Queens Surrogate Peter Kelly on April 16, 2018 and entitled Estate of Brody, is an example of the binding nature of a settlement. In Brody, a litigant sought to vacate a stipulation of settlement that concerned issues in a contested accounting. After reviewing the history of the case and the reasons for seeking the voiding of the agreement, the Court found that there was no basis to disturb the agreement. The Court noted that the stipulation was not ambiguous, that it comported with the issues negotiated by the parties, and that there were no mistakes or fraud associated with the proceeding.
I have represented clients in many different types of estate litigation such as Will Contests, Contested Accountings, fiduciary appointments and kinship cases. All of these proceedings can be quite complex and may take a long time to reach a Court resolution.
After extensive negotiation and review of all issues, many of these matters have been settled in ways so that all of the parties involved have their rights protected and obtain their fair share of an inheritance. Call me now for a free review if you have an estate litigation or settlement question.
New York Trust and Estate attorney Jules Martin Haas, Esq. has been representing clients in Surrogate’s Court and estate litigation 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.