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Instructive Information Concerning Will Contests In New York

The execution of a Last Will in New York is controlled by Estates, Powers and Trusts Law (EPTL) Section 3-2.1 entitled “Execution and attestation of wills; formal requirements”. Estate Lawyers are familiar with statutory requirements that a Will should be in writing and that there needs to be at least two attesting witnesses.

When a Will is offered for probate in the Surrogate’s Court it is necessary to notify the decedent’s distributees (next of kin). These individuals have the right to file Objections to the Will. Typically the distributees receive a Probate Citation which is like a Summons. The Citation provides a Court date on which the person receiving the Citation must appear in the Surrogate’s Court and advise the Court regarding his Objections to the Will.It can be difficult to successfully contest a Will. Estate Litigation can be complicated. The New York Probate Lawyer Blog discusses many issues regarding these types of cases. A recent decision concerning a Manhattan estate by Manhattan Surrogate Nora Anderson on July 26, 2018 entitled Matter of Estate of Gold, provides an excellent guide to issues concerning Wills that are contested.

Typically, there are a number of primary areas that are explored in such matters. These are: (i) Due Execution; (ii) Testamentary Capacity; and (iii) Undue Influence. In Gold, the decedent had made a Will in which he left his estate to three of his four children. The disinherited fourth child sought to challenge the document’s validity.

In her decision the Surrogate granted Summary Judgment to the proponents and dismissed all of the Objections. With regard to Testamentary Capacity the Court found that the decedent understood the nature of the assets he owned, as well as the provisions of the Will and he knew who his family was. The Court relied on the affidavits of the attesting witnesses and the attorney who drafted the Will and supervised its execution. Although the Objectant claimed that the decedent exhibited irrational behavior and acted in a threatening manner, the Court found such actions insufficient to overcome the presumption of capacity.

The Surrogate also found that the Will was duly executed. It contained an attestation clause which indicated proper execution. The Objectant failed to provide any evidence to overcome the presumption of due execution.

Objectant also did not provide sufficient evidence of undue influence. The circumstantial evidence presented was merely that the decedent would not have disinherited the Objectant if he was not improperly influenced. It seemed to the Court that the hostile relationship between the Objectant and the decedent was the real reason for the Objectant being left out of the Will.

Will Contests require that all of the litigants provide the Court with proper evidence that specifically shows the manner and circumstances surrounding the creation and execution of a Will. Courts do not accept mere conclusions or speculation as a basis upon which to determine the validity of a Will.

I have represented many individuals in Will Contests including named executors who want to probate a Will, as well as Objectants who want a Will invalidated. Call me now for a free discussion concerning your issues or concerns regarding a Will Contest or the probate process.

An experienced New York trusts and estates lawyer can assist with guidance for proper Will preparation and execution and Will contests. New York Probate Attorney Jules Martin Haas, Esq. has been representing clients in New York in Trusts and Estates matters and Surrogate’s Court proceedings throughout the past 30 years including Nassau and Suffolk counties. If you or someone you know is involved with or has questions about a New York estate or beneficiary designation, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 or email: jules.haas@verizon.net, for an initial consultation.

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