Probating a Will in New can often be an uncomplicated process. While there are many aspects to a probate case, in most instances the surviving family is cooperative and there is no controversy among the parties involved.
However, New York Estate Lawyers are familiar with situations where there are disputes that lead to estate litigation in the form of Will Contests. Of course, it is important that when a person creates an estate plan that they take the time and effort to insure that the Will is prepared and executed according to the statutes and procedures. The primary source of guidance is Estates, Powers and Trusts Law (EPTL) section 3-2.1 which is entitled “Execution and attestation of wills; formal requirements”.
The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has published many articles concerning Will contests and Surrogate’s Court procedures. The basic grounds for contesting a Will and filing Objections involve improper execution, lack of testamentary capacity and undue influence. Also, fraud is sometimes alleged and the authenticity or forgery of the document can be asserted.
There are different burdens of proof for the various claims. For instance, the proponent of the Will has the burden to prove due execution and testamentary capacity. However, the contestant has the burden to demonstrate undue influence.
Another interesting aspect of these cases is that the proponent’s case is helped where the Will is prepared and executed under the supervision of an attorney. There is an inference that a Will was properly executed when an attorney supervises its execution. Also, when the instrument contains an attestation clause, such clause provides prima facia evidence that a proper execution occurred. With regard to testamentary capacity, assertions by the attesting witnesses in affidavits regarding the decedent can provide basic proof of capacity.
The Objectant’s obligation to show undue influence is not as simple. There must be some presentation that the decedent acted against his own desires and that he was in a situation or suffered from a condition that would have made him subject to such influence. Additionally, there must be some evidence that improper influence actually occurred.
A recent Bronx Estate case decided entitled Estate of Robinson, provides an excellent description of the fundamental issues in Contested Will cases. Robinson was a case where the proponent sought to dismiss Objections to the Will through a summary judgment motion. The motion was decided by Bronx Surrogate Nelida Malave-Gonzalez on November 7, 2018. In the decision, the Court dismissed the Objections alleging lack of due execution, lack of testamentary capacity and fraud. However, the Court found that there was sufficient evidence of undue influence to require a trial concerning this issue.
I have been involved with many Will Contest cases and other Surrogate’s Court litigation. These matters can be very complicated and involve extensive review of facts regarding the decedent and the Will signing circumstances. Call me now for a free discussion if have an issue regarding an Estate. 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 Bronx and Brooklyn. If you or someone you know has any questions regarding these matters, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 for an initial consultation.