New York Estate Planning May Not Prevent Estate Litigation

shutterstock_204507106-300x254Estate planning in New York is essential for the efficient settlement of a decedent’s estate.  The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has published many articles regarding planning an estate.  The various documents which may be prepared as part of a plan include a Last Will and Testament, Living Will, Health Care Proxy, Power of Attorney and Living Trust.  In short, these papers can be described as follows:

  • Last Will and Testament: contains various provisions detailing a testator’s intentions and directions for the disposition of assets which are owned by a person in his name alone.  It is essential to remember that assets which are held jointly with others or have named beneficiaries, such as a life insurance policy, are paid directly to the designated surviving parties and are not controlled by a Will.
  • Living Will: has provisions which explain a person’s intention and desire not to be artificially kept alive if their ability to live is intrinsically lost such that they are brain-dead.
  • Health Care Proxy: designates the person who can make health care decisions for someone who is no longer able to do so for themselves.  Only one agent can be acting, although successor agents can be named in the document.
  • Power of Attorney: designates agents who can make decisions regarding various assets or transactions concerning a person’s property or financial interests.  More than one person can be designated and multiple agents can be allowed to act either individually or together.
  • Living Trust or Grantor Trust: provides provisions for the use and disposition of trust assets during the life of the creator and for post-disability or death dispositions.  In order to be effective, the creator’s assets must be transferred into trust ownership.

Creating an effective estate plan can take a lot of time and effort.  However, the process affords a person with the ability to state unequivocally how assets are to be disposed of and who should be appointed as Executors and Trustees.

There are situations, however, when despite adequate planning, disputes arise which end up in Surrogate’s Court litigation.  For example, when a Will is filed for probate, a disinherited person who has standing may challenge the validity of the Will in a Will Contest.  This is also the case with a Living Trust which, for example, can be claimed to be the result of undue influence in a Court case.  The various circumstances which can give rise to controversies in even the best planned estate are innumerable.

A recent Brooklyn estate case called In the Matter of the Petition of Holly Lucia Pearce for Construction of the Last Will and Testament of Claire Pearce decided by Brooklyn Surrogate Bernard J. Graham on March 14, 2024 provides an example of an estate controversy which arose despite the creation and the probate of a Will.  In Pearce, the decedent left a Will which was admitted to probate.  The decedent’s two children were appointed as Executors.  A provision in the Will left the decedent’s “primary residence” to one of the children.  A dispute arose as to whether the adjoining lot to the residence house was included in this devise.  As found by the Court, the lot was comprised of a backyard, private garden and parking area, all of which were used by the decedent in connection with her living in the next door house.  Ultimately, the Court found that it was logical that the provision concerning the “primary residence” included the next door lot which the decedent used as part of her home.  This was obviously the decedent’s intent.  Therefore, the Court ruled that the lot was included as part of the gift.

I have represented parties in cases in the Surrogate’s Court regarding probate, administration, accounting and other matters for over forty (40) years.  Do you have an issue with an estate or 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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