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New York Wills and Trusts May Be Modified to Reflect the Creator’s Intent

The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has had many posts discussing the importance of a person’s intent as reflected in their Estate Planning and Advance Directive documents.

A primary purpose of preparing and executing a Last Will, Living Trust, Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy or Living Will is to provide a clear expression of the manner in which a person wants his affairs to be handled and to select the Executors, Trustees and Agents who will best carry out such desires. As has been discussed, when a person dies without a Last Will or does not otherwise provide for pre-death management of his affairs, the decisions are typically left in the hands of the Courts and New York Law to determine the rightful beneficiaries and administrators. There are occasions, however, when despite expressing ones directions and intent through language in a Will or Trust, the provisions in a person’s Will or Trust fails to fully provide for the implementation of the specific gifts. For example, a Will may bequeath a sum of money to a certain charity. However, a problem would arise if the charity no longer exists or the purposes of which the charity was formed changed. In such a situation, an Executor or Trustee would be faced with a question as to how to dispose of the assets meant for the charity or a specific charitable purpose.

Fortunately, New York State Laws give the Courts, such as the Surrogate’s Court, the authority to modify the Will or Trust to account for a changed circumstance. In the recent case of Matter of Wheaton Galentine Trust, decided by Manhattan Surrogate Nora Anderson on April 8, 2013 and reported in the New York Law Journal on April 12, 2013, a Trust provided for a distribution to St. Vincent’s Hospital and Medical Center for geriatric purposes. Unfortunately, St. Vincent’s had ceased operating in 2010. Utilizing the traditional concept of Cy Pres as set forth in New York Estates, Powers and Trusts Law Section 8-1.1, the Court found that the creator’s intent was satisfied by allowing the St. Vincent’s distribution to be made instead to two different medical institutions performing geriatric services. Thus, the Court was able to modify the trust terms to carry out the creator’s intent when faced with circumstances that prevented the original disposition from being satisfied.

New York Estate Planning Lawyers assist their clients with documents that express the client’s intentions regarding their personal and financial affairs and the disposition of their assets. In situations involving Estate or Trust Settlement, these expressions of intent can be instrumental to assist a Court in helping to accomplish the client’s goal. When there is no plan in place, such as in the case of an Intestate Estate, a person’s desire to benefit particular members of his family or friends or a charity cannot be fulfilled. Over the many years, I have assisted many clients with their planning goals to create an estate plan and advance directives that fully reflect their intentions and desires.


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 in Suffolk and Nassau 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: jules.haas@verizon.net, 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 jules.haas@verizon.net. You can cancel receiving the newsletter at anytime.

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