Following a person’s death, the settlement of an estate, and any testamentary trusts which may be involved, typically occurs through proceedings in the Surrogate’s Court. The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has published numerous articles concerning the probate and administration of estates. As can be seen from a review of these publications, the types of estate litigation which can occur appears almost endless.
Just to review a few examples, leading the list as far as common recognition is the Will Contest. In these cases, typically heirs of the decedent who have not received what they believe is appropriate under a Will offered for probate file objections to the Will. These Will Objections usually focus on lack of due execution, undue influence and lack of testamentary capacity. The contest of a Will is a long and complicated process which may take years and outcomes are never certain. If the contestants put forward a viable case, it may very well result in a settlement.
Another very prevalent source of Surrogate’s Court litigation involves determining a decedent’s next of kin. Kinship proceedings appear in both intestate administration matters and probate. Both types of proceedings require that the decedent’s next of kin or distributees be accurately and fully identified and brought into the case to assert their rights. Determining next of kin can be difficult and often requires the services of expert genealogists.
Estate accounting proceedings are another area where interested parties may be involved in estate litigation. A fiduciary is required to prepare an accounting to provide to the beneficiaries for approval before assets are distributed. The beneficiaries may not approve of the conduct of an administrator or executor and file objections to the accounting. These objections can involve alleged breaches of fiduciary duty.
Suffice it to say, some matters and litigation in the Surrogate’s Court can be arduous, confusing and frustrating to the individuals who are trying to protect their estate interests. A recent case involving a grandson of the late Walt Disney is an example of such personal difficulty. An article written by Ashley Cullins on July 16, 2021 in the Hollywood Reporter entitled “Walt Disney’s Grandson Loses Appeal in Fight for $200M Inheritance” describes Bradford Lund’s attempt to settle an estate dispute in a California probate court. During the course of these proceedings, the presiding Judge rejected a proposed settlement and appointed a guardian ad litem for Lund without a hearing. The Judge also indicated that Lund suffered from Down syndrome. Ultimately, the GAL was dismissed and the case was reassigned to a different probate Judge. However, Lund brought a Federal lawsuit claiming that the Judge had violated his due process rights. The Federal appeals court found that Lund’s lawsuit was moot and that the probate Judge was protected by judicial immunity. Nevertheless, the Federal appeals court acknowledged that Lund was frustrated and that he had “languished in perhaps the Unhappiest Place on Earth: probate court.”
While estate cases can be complex, the assistance of an experienced estate lawyer can be essential. I have represented parties in all types of estate and guardianship cases for over 40 years. Call Me Now for a free confidential review of your 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.