Estate Litigation Can Complicate Estate Settlement

Litigation concerning estate matters has been discussed in many posts in the New York Probate Lawyer Blog. The variety of Surrogate’s Court disputes sometimes appears endless. These matters include contested probate proceedings, as well as proceedings to discover and recover a decedent’s property from third parties who have wrongfully taken such property. Also, proceedings to remove an Executor or Administrator because of a breach of fiduciary duty are not uncommon.

Recently, a number of stories have been written concerning estate disputes that involve well-known individuals. These articles present good examples of the problems presented when an estate is in turmoil.  A post appearing in the on November 17, 2014 by Eriq Gardner is entitled “Court: Sherman Hemsley Won’t Be Dug Out From Grave.” As reported, Sherman Hemsley was a famous actor appearing in sitcoms as the character George Jefferson. Shortly before his death in July 2012, Mr. Hemsley signed a new Will in which he left his estate to his business manager/best friend. Although the Will was contested by Mr. Hemsley’s brother, the probate court found the Will to be valid. In the appeal, which the brother also lost, he asserted that Mr. Hemsley should have been buried in a different location and that the business manager should not have made this decision. The appeals court declined to order that Mr. Hemsley’s body be removed and found that the brother’s rights to decide where to bury Mr. Hemsley were extinguished. In another high profile estate fight, the family of film star, Patrick Swayze is claiming that the actor’s Last Will was a forgery. As reported at on October 29, 2014 by Casey Scheffler in a post entitled “Patrick Swayze family claims will was forged”, the disputed Will appears to have been signed only weeks before the actor died in 2009.   This Will, which entirely excludes Mr. Swayze’s mother and siblings in favor of Mr. Swayze’s new wife and her brother, is asserted to have been signed at a time when the actor was very ill and hospitalized and not able to understand or sign his name.

As a New York estate lawyer I have represented many clients in Will contests and other Surrogate’s Court litigation matters.  It is common that family members allege that a decedent’s Last Will is invalid due to undue influence or that the decedent lacked testamentary capacity to sign the Will.  While it may be difficult at times to demonstrate that the decedent’s Will should not be admitted to probate, a Surrogate’s Judge or jury may deny probate to a document that is the subject of wrongful or improper conduct or procedure.  Call me if you are a family member who has questions concerning the validity of a Last Will or other document such as a Living Trust.   I also help clients probate Wills and administer estates where there is family controversy.

New York City probate lawyer, Jules Martin Haas has helped many clients over the past 30 years throughout Kings and Nassau Counties resolve issues relating to estate litigation and settlement in New York Probate proceedings. If you or someone you know has any questions regarding these matters, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 for an initial consultation.

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  You can cancel receiving the newsletter at anytime.


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