The process of settling the estate of a decedent can be either uncomplicated or filled with controversy. There are many aspects of estate administration that can lead to disputes and litigation.
For example, when a person dies, among the first questions to be asked is did the decedent leave a Last Will and, if so, where is the original of the Will located. Sometimes, the person who is in possession of the original Last Will refuses or just does not file the Will with the Surrogate’s Court. In such circumstances the New York Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act (SCPA) Section 1401 provides a procedure whereby the Court can issue an Order directing that the Last Will be produced and filed with the Court.
Will contests provide another example of estate litigation. Interested parties, such as disinherited children or other next of kin, may dispute the validity of a Will and thereby engage in protracted litigation with claims of undue influence or the decedent’s lack of testamentary capacity.
In all circumstances involving litigation, great consideration must be given to the cost and probable outcome of the case. Simply stated, thought should be given to the likelihood of success and whether the cost of prevailing is worth the effort. These are not easy questions to answer, particularly at the outset of an estate administration. However, a good faith review is always the best course.
A blind eye to such an inquiry can lead to disastrous results. Recently, as reported in The New York Law Journal on August 26, 2010, a New Jersey Superior Court Judge sanctioned two law firms and directed the firms to pay $1.96 million to defendants because the law firms engaged in “frivolous” litigation. The Judge’s ruling was in a case where the billionaire Ronald Perelman, as executor of his ex-wife Claudia’s estate, claimed that Claudia’s father had made an oral promise to leave a share of his estate to Claudia. The Judge found in Estate of Claudia Cohen v. Robert Cohen that the attorneys should have “recognized” that the claims being asserted were not supported by the evidence.
As the above decision demonstrates, good faith and responsibility to the Court play an important role in estate matters and litigation. A good New York Probate Attorney can help an executor make informed decisions regarding estate administration and litigation.
Jules Martin Haas handles all types of probate cases, including Wills, estate planning, estate settlement, advanced directives and guardianship matters. Please call me at (212) 355-2575 for a free consultation to discuss your rights.