New York Will Contests May Involve Undue Influence

Contesting a Will in New York involves many different issues. The validity of a Will must be challenged on various specific grounds. The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has discussed these grounds in many prior articles.

One of the basic allegations in a Will dispute is that the document was not properly executed. Estates, Power and Trusts Law (EPTL) Section 3-2.1 entitled Execution and attestation of wills; formal requirements, provides the statutory requirements for Will execution. These rules include the need for a written document that is signed by the testator at the end and witnessed by two individuals.Another common ground for a contest is that the decedent was unduly influenced. This claim essentially asserts that the decedent did not exercise his own decision making with regard to the Will provisions. Essentially, it is claimed that the decedent was somehow improperly influenced to make and sign a document that did not reflect his true wishes or intentions.

Proof of undue influence and defending against these claims can be very difficult due to the inability of all involved to know precisely what was in the mind of the decedent when the Will was prepared and signed. However, there are certain guidelines that assist the litigants and the Courts in deciding these types of cases. An interesting example of such a matter was presented in the case of Estate of Geraghty which was decided by Rockland Surrogate Rolf Thorsen on December 15, 2017.

In Geraghty, a neighbor of the decedent sought to probate a Will which was signed by the decedent in the hospital shortly before her death and left the decedent’s entire estate to the neighbor and his wife. The Objectants to the Will were the decedent’s sister and nephew.

After reviewing the evidence the Court found that the Will had been prepared by an attorney who had visited with the decedent in the hospital and who testified that the decedent had clearly told him that she wanted to name the neighbors as beneficiaries. The Will was prepared and signed under the supervision of the attorney and was witnesses by two individuals. The Court also found that the Will contained an attestation clause, which summarized the execution process, and there were also affidavits signed by the witnesses at execution detailing the steps taken regarding the execution ceremony. These affidavits are known as self-proving affidavits.

Based upon the above facts the Court noted that there were presumptions provided in the law that the Will was properly executed and a valid document. Since the Objectants did not present any evidence that could overcome the presumptions of regularity and the testimony of the attorney and the attesting witnesses, the Court admitted the Will to probate.

Will contests and litigation in the Surrogate’s Court can be complicated. In Geraghty, the Court was not persuaded by the fact that the decedent’s prior estate plan and Will had benefited the sister and the nephew. I have represented petitioners (Will proponents) and Objectants in Will disputes. If you have a question concerning Probate or the validity of a Will, call me now for a free review.

An experienced New York trusts and estates lawyer can assist with guidance for proper Will preparation, 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 in Manhattan and Brooklyn and other counties. If you or someone you know is involved with or has questions about a New York estate matter, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 or email:, for an initial consultation.

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