Last Will and Testament is an important part of a person’s estate plan. There are a number of papers that a person should consider when starting to prepare a plan. In addition to a Will, these papers can include a Living Will, a Health Care Proxy, a Living Trust and a Durable Power of Attorney.
The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has published many articles discussing the items of information that must be considered when preparing these documents. Simply put, a person needs to understand the nature and extent of his assets. This should include a review of the ownership title, such as joint or individually owned assets, as well as the value of the assets. A person also needs to formulate the provisions of any paper which disposes of assets so that the document terms are clear. For example, the dispositive directions in a Will or a Trust as to the amount or nature of a bequest along with the identity of intended beneficiary should be explicitly set forth.
When the terms of a Will or a Trust are unclear or ambiguous, estate litigation in the Surrogate’s Court may be needed to resolve any disputes. These types of cases, which are referred to as construction proceedings, are complicated by the fact that the person who created the Will or Trust is typically deceased. Therefore, he cannot provide any insight into the actual intended meaning of the document. A New York City Estate and Trust Attorney usually represents clients such as fiduciaries and beneficiaries in these matters.
A recent case entitled “Matter of the Estate of Goodyear”, decided by Erie Surrogate Barbara Howe on December 18, 2017, demonstrates the problem of ambiguous language in a Will. In Goodyear, the decedent’s Will contained a bequest that included the phrase “any mineral rights”. The issue that was presented to the Court in a construction proceeding was whether this phrase included the decedent’s “oil and gas rights” . Since the terminology was found by the Court to be ambiguous, the Court needed to determine the testator’s intent when using the mineral rights phrase. The Court reviewed evidence of the testator’s intent which included the decedent’s prior Wills, various memos and letters that the decedent had written and the testimony of the attorney who drafted the Will. Based upon the evidence presented, the Court concluded that there was clear and convincing evidence that the decedent intended to include oil and gas interests when he used the term “mineral rights”.
I have represented many individuals with regard to planning an estate. I have also provided representation in Surrogate’s Court cases where the meaning of certain language in a document needed to determined. These matters can be very complex. As seen by the Goodyear case, it is important to make certain that a person’s estate planning papers clearly state the person’s desires and that no ambiguities exist.
If you have any questions regarding an estate plan or Court case regarding a Will or Trust, call me now for a free review. An experienced New York trusts and estates lawyer can assist with guidance for proper Will preparation and execution. New York Probate Attorney Jules Martin Haas, Esq. has been representing clients in New York in Trusts and Estates matters and Surrogate’s Court proceedings throughout the past 30 years in Manhattan and Brooklyn and other counties. If you or someone you know is involved with or has questions about a New York estate matter, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org, for an initial consultation.