New York Estate Litigation Involves Many Different Legal Concepts – Here, a Power of Attorney Involves the Creation of a Contract

shutterstock_1010278675-300x200New York estate litigation encompasses many different aspects of trust and estate law.  Controversies may arise in many types of proceedings.  In the case of a probate proceeding, the most obvious area of dispute concerns the validity of a Last Will and Testament.  This type of controversy is known as a Will Contest.  Other aspects of probating a Will which can cause adversarial effects include whether a certain person should be appointed as an Executor.  Issues may also arise as to whether the language in a Will is clear or ambiguous.  A construction proceeding may be needed after probate to settle issues regarding the meaning or intent of Will provisions.  Another area of controversy may involve the right of election provided to a surviving spouse.  A spouse who is disinherited in a Will can file an election to obtain what amounts to one-third (1/3) of a decedent’s estate.  The calculation of a right of election can be complicated.

Intestate administration proceedings also garner a fair share of litigation.  First and foremost, the determination of the kinship of a decedent is needed to determine the identity of the parties to the proceeding and the rightful heirs of an estate.  Also, kinship will provide the status of the persons who have priority to serve as the estate administrator.  These issues can range from whether a person is a distributee or whether an alleged spouse was married to a decedent or divorced or disqualified due to abandonment.

Another area where litigation is common involves estate accounting proceedings.  All beneficiaries are entitled to receive an accounting from an executor or administrator.  Objections to the accounting can be filed concerning the propriety of a fiduciary’s actions.  Claims may be made regarding a breach of fiduciary duty.

A recent Brooklyn case decided by Supreme Court Justice Carolyn E. Wade on September 7, 2020 entitled Gioeli v. Magro reflects the myriad of issues that can arise in estate and trust matters.  In Gioeli, a grantor and her daughter executed a Living Trust.  The daughter was named as the trustee of the trust.  The grantor then transferred her interest in certain real estate to the trust.  The daughter then transferred the real estate to herself individually.  The grantor commenced an action to void the deed and remove the daughter as a trustee.  The complaint alleged that the grantor was fraudulently induced by the daughter to sign a power of attorney by which the trustee daughter transferred the real estate to the daughter.  In furtherance of seeking Court permission to amend her counterclaims, the daughter asserted that the grantor breached a contractual obligation pursuant to the Power of Attorney since the daughter claimed that the Power of Attorney was intended by the grantor to provide the daughter with the agency power to transfer the real estate immediately.  The grantor asserted that the intent was that the Power of Attorney was not for immediate use.

Ultimately, the Court found that the defendant’s proposed counterclaim for breach of contract was insufficient since there was no meeting of the minds as to the material term concerning when the Power of Attorney was to be effectively used.

Estate litigation can be complicated as seen in Gioeli, which involved issues regarding estate planning and advance directives.  Do you have a question regarding an estate or a guardianship?  Call Me Now for a free confidential review of your matter.  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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