The New York Probate Lawyer Blog in the March 1, 2017 posting discussed some of the aspects involved in a Will Contest in New York. The post referred to a decision by Queens Surrogate Peter Kelly dated February 9, 2017 which dismissed the Objections to the Will and admitted the Will to probate. The decision was in a case called Will of Bellasalmo. One of the Objections to the Will in Bellasalmo was based upon the assertion that the Will was the product of a mistake. The Court pointed out that in order for an Objectant to demonstrate a mistake, it would need to show that the decedent failed to understand the terms of the Will or that the attorney who drafted the Will did not follow the decedent’s instructions. Since the Objectant in Bellasalmo could not provide any evidence in this regard the Objection based upon mistake was dismissed.
It should be pointed out that in a Will Contest case, the Objections that are filed contain a number of different allegations. Typically, the Objections will claim lack of due execution, lack of testamentary capacity and undue influence.Another Objection that was dismissed by the Court in Bellasalmo concerned a claim of fraud. In this regard, the Court noted that the Objectant was required to show that false statements were purposefully made to induce the decedent to sign a Will that would not otherwise have been executed. Again, the Court found that the proof presented regarding fraud was inadequate to create an issue of fact.
An Objection based upon undue influence was also asserted by the Objectant and dismissed by the Court. Essentially, undue influence involves influence that resulted in the decedent acting in a manner that was contrary to his actual desires. One of the arguments that the Objectant made in support of this assertion was that the decedent had changed the names of beneficiaries from a prior Will. The Court noted that while a prior testamentary scheme is a factor that can be considered, the mere fact of changing a Will by itself does not show undue influence. Also, the Court found that the testator had told her estate lawyer the reasons for changing the beneficiaries in the Will.
Proving undue influence is rather difficult. Since the decedent is not able to testify as to his state of mind at the time of the Will signing, an Objectant must rely on circumstantial evidence. The evidence might include facts such as the decedent being in a weakened condition due to age or illness or that the decedent needed to rely on the benefited person under the Will and could not inadequately act or make decisions on their own account. The existence of a confidential relationship between the decedent and the Will beneficiary may show the existence of undue influence.
The case of Bellasalmo presents a good discussion of many of the claims that can be asserted in a Will Contest and the evidentiary proof needed to prevail on such assertions in order to defeat a Will. Estate litigation can be very complex. A review and consultation with a New York City Estates Lawyer regarding Surrogate’s Court cases and contested Wills can be helpful. If you have a question or issue regarding a New York Estate 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 and Will contests. 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 including Nassau and Suffolk counties. If you or someone you know is involved with or has questions about a New York estate or beneficiary designation, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org, for an initial consultation.