New York Surrogate’s Court Confirms That Alterations To A Will Are Not Valid

When a person creates a New York Estate Plan, one of the most important documents is a Last Will and Testament.  A Will is an instrument that controls the disposition of assets that are owned in the name of the decedent alone at the time of death.  Assets that are owned in a different manner such as joint ownership or with a designated beneficiary pass automatically to the named party outside of the Will.

In order for a Will to be valid it must be executed in accordance with the statutory requirements provided in the New York Estate Laws.   Estate lawyers know that the guidelines provided in Estates, Powers and Trusts Law (EPTL) section 3-2.1 entitled “Execution and attestation of wills; formal requirements” must be strictly followed.  If a Will fails to meet the tests of this statute, the Surrogate’s Court won’t admit the Will to Probate.   The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has posted many articles regarding Wills, Will Contests and Probate.

Once a person has executed a Will, there are times when he wants to change the terms of the document.  Once again, any modifications need to comply with EPTL 3-2.1.  This can be done by a Codicil or amendment to the original Will or a by executing a new Will that is properly signed.  However, if the original Will is changed by merely handwriting new information on the document or making notes about cancelling it, the Will in original form still remains viable.  This is because the changes were not done in accordance with the statute.

A recent Bronx Estate case decided by Bronx Surrogate Nelda Malave-Gonzalez provides a good example of an ineffective change to a Will.  In Estate of Heffernan, decided on October 30, 0219, the decedent had made changes to her Will by writing on the lower half of the first page that the Will was “No Good” and also stating the same over the attesting witnesses on the self-proving affidavit.

After examining the facts, although it appeared the decedent wanted to change her Will, she failed to do so in accordance with the statute and did not revoke her Will pursuant to EPTL section 3-4.1 entitled “Revocation of wills; effect on codicils”.  The statute provides the manner by which a Will can be revoked and includes revocation by another Will or a duly executed writing.  As a result, the Court admitted the decedent’s Will to probate in its original unaltered form.

I recently won a Manhattan Estate case in the Estate of Leslie Mandel where the decedent had made extensive handwritten changes to her Will which did not comply with the requirements of due execution.  The Court found that the Will was not revoked and admitted the Will to probate in its original form without the alterations.

Call me now for a free review of your Will or Probate issue.  I have handled probate and estate cases throughout New York including Queens Probate and Brooklyn Probate.   We offer reasonable and flexible fee arrangements and personal representation.

New York Guardianship and Trusts and Estates Attorney Jules Martin Haas has helped many clients over the past 30 years resolve issues relating to Guardianship, probate and estate settlement throughout New York City including Queens County, Brooklyn and Manhattan.   If you or someone you know has any questions regarding these matters, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 for an initial consultation.


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