The preparation of a Last Will is an essential part of estate planning. However, once a Will has been finalized and signed it is the final document that exists to reflect a decedent’s intentions regarding the disposition of his estate.
After the testator’s death, the Last Will that was created must be filed with the Surrogate’s Court. Such filing is the start of the Probate Process by which the Will is admitted to probate and its terms are validated.New York Estate attorneys represent persons who are named in Wills as Executors and assist with following the Court and statutory requirements for probate. Among the requirements to obtain probate is the need to give notice of Court proceedings to the decedent’s distributees (next of kin). Upon receipt of the notice, the next of kin have a right to file Objections to the Will. The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has discussed Will Contest issues in earlier posts.
There are essentially a number of legal grounds that can provide a basis for a contest of a Will. These grounds are lack of due execution, lack of testamentary capacity and undue influence. During the course of Surrogate’s Court litigation if it is found that any of these grounds prevented the Will from being valid, then the Court would refuse to admit the Will to probate. The result of the denial of probate would be that the decedent’s next of kin would inherit the estate rather than the beneficiaries named in the decedent’s Will.
It is not an easy task to contest a Will. Many of the requirements that are needed for a successful probate such as due execution and testamentary capacity are achieved by legal presumptions that are obtained through attorney supervised Will signing ceremonies. Moreover, other grounds for contest such as undue influence and fraud are not easily demonstrated.
A recent case decided by Queens Surrogate Peter Kelly on December 14, 2014 entitled Matter of Cookson, provides an example where the court dismissed Objections that there were found to be meritless. In Cookson Objections were filed by the daughter of a decedent. The daughter filed Objections claiming that the Will should be denied probate due to lack of execution, lack of testamentary capacity, fraud, undue influence and mistake. After reviewing the evidence on a motion for summary judgment the Court found that there was no basis to support any of the numerous Objections. The Court, therefore, dismissed all of the Will Objections and admitted the Will to probate.
One interesting aspect of Cookson was that the Objectant claimed that the decedent did not understand the contents of the Will she signed. The Court found that this Objection made no sense. The Surrogate noted that a mistake or lack of full appreciation by a testator concerning the size of an estate at death was not a valid basis to deny probate. The Surrogate also noted that the need to construe the legal effect of Will language was also not a valid basis for a contest.
I have represented many persons in Surrogate’s Court Will Contest cases. The matters are usually very complicated and the assistance of experienced legal counsel can be essential. If you have any questions regarding Probate or Will Contests, please 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.
Jules Martin Haas provides his clients and members of the community with a free monthly e-newsletter which contains articles covering a variety of legal topics including estate planning, financial matters and real estate. If you wish to be placed on the e-newslist, simply e-mail me at email@example.com. You can cancel receiving the newsletter at anytime.