New York Court Says Using a Pre-Printed Last Will Form Can Cause Probate Problems

shutterstock_571088005-2-300x200Estate planning in New York, and probating a Last Will in Surrogate’s Court, go hand in hand.  When a person engages in preparing and executing a Last Will, attention must be given to the eventuality of submitting the document to the probate process.  As discussed in many posts in the New York Probate Lawyer Blog, a Will must be executed in accordance with the statutory requirements set forth in Estates, Powers and Trusts Law Section 3-2.1 entitled “Execution and attestation of wills; formal requirements.”

It has become more common that individuals prepare their own Will documents.  Many forms of Wills are available on the internet.  These can be found in legal document catalogues or through various legal document drafting services.  When it comes to a Will, not only does the document need to contain specific and properly worded and organized information, the execution and signing process needs to meet statutory requirements.  Thus, when self-help methods are utilized without the assistance of an attorney, the prospects for estate litigation and confusion can increase dramatically.  Such was the situation in a recent Rockland County estate case entitled Matter of Estate of Tsinopoulos, which was decided by Rockland Surrogate Keith Cornell on July 17, 2020.

In Tsinopoulos, the decedent used a Will form which she completed herself without the assistance of an attorney.  She then had the Will executed in her local bank, again, without the assistance of counsel.  While there is no prohibition against preparing and executing a Will without an attorney, the involvement of an estate lawyer gives the execution of the document a presumption of validity.  In this case, the Will left virtually all of the decedent’s assets to her daughter, which prompted the decedent’s son to file objections to the Will and engage in a Will contest.

Among the issues pointed to by the son as providing support for the contest was that where the Will form left a blank space to fill in the date of the month on which the Will was signed, there was a handwritten insertion of the full date, month and year which was crossed out and then just the date of the month was inserted in the appropriate blank space.  Also, the son alleged that the sister may have substituted the pages of the Will which provided for the bequests since there was a question as to whether the Will was stapled when it was first found.

The Court ultimately dismissed all of the objections to the Will and admitted it to probate.  However, the Court did comment “that the issues raised by the use of a preprinted form Will and supervision of execution by a non-lawyer should give potential users of these forms reason to pause.”

It is important to make sure that a Will is prepared and executed properly.  A little extra time and expense during the planning process may avoid confusion and contested probate proceedings after a person dies.

I have assisted many clients with the preparation of their Wills and estate plans and navigating the probate and estate litigation process.  Call Me Now for a free confidential review of your estate issue.  We offer reasonable and flexible fee arrangements and personal representation.

New York Trusts and Estates Attorney Jules Martin Haas has helped many clients over the past 40 years resolve issues relating to guardianship and probate and estate settlement throughout New York City including the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Nassau and Suffolk County.  If you or someone you know has any questions regarding these matters, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 for an initial free consultation.

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