A common issue that is found in many contested Guardianship cases and Estate matters is whether a person’s beneficiary designations or asset plan has been the subject of undue influence. New York City Estate Lawyers, like those throughout the state, are accustomed to having clients claim that the only reason the client was not named as a decedent’s beneficiary was because the individuals who did receive assets improperly influenced the decedent’s decisions. Undue influence is not an easy concept to prove or even to completely understand. Courts have recognized that undue influence is not easily determined. Also, wrongful acts by one party over another are typically not as clear-cut as one person threatening the other. The improper conduct is usually more subtle and subversive and may occur over an extended period of time. In most cases the issue as to whether a person’s testamentary plan is the result of undue influence or improper conduct is a question of fact to be determined at a trial.A recent case decided by Bronx Surrogate Nelida Malave-Gonzalez on November 25, 2014 provides a good example of the issues involved in these matters. The case is entitled Estate of Stanton. In this matter the decedent’s daughter, as estate Administrator, brought a proceeding under Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act 2103 to invalidate the decedent’s lifetime designation on bank accounts and annuities. The designation listed the decedent’s first cousin as a beneficiary.
The proceeding before the Court involved a motion for summary judgment in which the Administrator asked the Court to decide in her favor before there was an actual trial. The Court refused to grant the summary judgment application. The Surrogate found that there were unresolved material issues of fact regarding the decedent’s capacity to make his own decisions and whether his capacity was affected by his declining physical and mental condition. Also, issues existed as to whether there was actual affection or a personal relationship between the decedent and the cousin that might account for the decedent’s decisions regarding his beneficiary designations. All in all the Court determined that these issues needed to be decided at a trial.
I have represented many clients in estate and guardianship cases where undue influence and lack of capacity appear to have resulted in a person’s receiving benefits that appear improper. The Court will review all of the evidence regarding a person’s physical and mental abilities and the relationship between the decedent and the named beneficiaries before deciding whether to revoke or invalidate the lifetime acts of the decedent.
New York Guardianship Attorney Jules Martin Haas, Esq. has been representing clients in New York Guardianship Proceedings, Trusts and Estates matters and Surrogate’s Court proceedings throughout the past 30 years in New York, including Queens Guardianship and Nassau Guardianship. If you or someone you know is involved with or has questions about a New York Guardianship or estate, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org, for an initial consultation.
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