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New York Will Contest Discovery May Be Prevented by Prior Agreement

shutterstock_1010278675-300x200In a recent post in the New York Probate Lawyer Blog, we discussed the necessity of reviewing various documents that may have an impact on a person’s estate planning or the administration of his estate.  Such papers would include divorce or matrimonial agreements and business papers.

A recent Manhattan estate case decided by Manhattan Surrogate Nora Anderson on July 6, 2020 provides an excellent example of the need to examine such papers and agreements.  In Estate of Kaufman, the decedent left a Last Will and Testament in which his estate was disposed of between a nephew and another relative.

The decedent was survived by his wife but did not provide for her in his Will.  Prior to his death, the decedent was engaged in a divorce action with the wife.  While the divorce was not finalized before his death, the couple had signed a Stipulation in which the parties divided their marital assets.  The agreement also contained a comprehensive provision by which each waived their rights to share in the other’s estate.

When the husband died, the wife sought to obtain discovery of information pursuant to Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act Section 1404 entitled “Witnesses to be examined; proof required.”  This statute allows an interested party to obtain discovery regarding the execution of a Last Will prior to the filing of formal Objections to the Will.  Such discovery includes obtaining information regarding the decedent’s financial affairs such as records and other papers.

The nephew, who was the proponent of the Will, objected to the wife engaging in SCPA 1404 discovery.  It was asserted that the wife had no standing to obtain discovery since she waived all of her rights to share in the estate in the Stipulation.

After reviewing the facts, the Court granted the nephew’s motion to strike the wife’s discovery demand.  It was noted that SCPA Section 1410 entitled “Who may file objections to probate of an alleged will” required that a potential objectant to a Will needed to have a pecuniary interest which would be adversely affected if the Will was admitted to probate.  In this case, since the wife had already waived all of her interest in the husband’s estate, she had no monetary interest and, therefore, no standing to file Will objections.

As can be seen from Kaufman, there are many factors and documents that can affect an estate plan, estate settlement and probate of a Will.  Sometimes the impact of these papers must be determined through estate litigation in the Surrogate’s Court.

As an estate lawyer, I have represented many clients in Will contest cases and also in matters concerning the interpretation and impact of various agreements relating to the decedent’s affairs.  If you have a problem or issue with a probate case or Surrogate’s Court matter, Call Me Now for a free confidential review.  We provide 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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