New York Wills Should Be Carefully Written to Avoid Confusion and Estate Litigation

Estate Planning attorneys are aware that it is important for a person to prepare a Last Will, Living Will, Health Care Proxy and other appropriate papers regarding advance directives and financial planning.  The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has had many posts regarding these matters.  Among the essentials to develop a good plan, a person should spend time reviewing with his advisors the assets that are owned, the identity of the relatives or other persons that are to receive a beneficial interest, and the amounts and manner in which each beneficiary is to receive his interest.  Numerous considerations also include the impact of taxes and the utilization of trusts and other planning methods.

No matter what kind of estate plan is developed, it is essential that the creator’s intent be clearly and explicitly set out in the various documents that are signed.  Estate litigation in the New York Surrogate’s Court invariably results when the wording in a paper, such as a Last Will, is not clear or complete.  An example of the consequences of missing or unclear language in a Will appeared in a decision on March 19, 2014 by Manhattan Surrogate Rita Mella in Will of Isasi-Diaz

In this case the decedent’s Will provided that one-third of her estate be distributed to one set of beneficiaries and that another third be given to another group of persons.  However, the Will was silent as to the disposition of the last one-third.  In the course of the estate lawsuit the attorney who wrote the Will stated that the decedent wanted to leave the final one-third to a certain group of relatives.  However, despite the testimony of the attorney, the Surrogate decided that the Court, absent an actual ambiguity, could not alter the terms of the Will or consider extrinsic evidence.  Therefore, the Court found that the unaccounted for one-third of the estate was not disposed of by the Will but would pass by intestacy to the decedent’s next of kin.

The Isasi-Diaz case is important for a number of reasons.  First, a person should prepare a Last Will or other documents to dispose of assets in a manner that reflects their desires and intent.  Otherwise, the New York intestacy laws are going to control as to the persons who are to receive the estate benefits.  Secondly, once documents are prepared, they should be thoroughly considered as to all the provisions and reviewed to be certain that the creator’s desires are fully and clearly expressed.

I have represented many individuals with regard to preparing and executing Last Wills, Living Wills and other testamentary and non-testamentary papers.  Both clients and estate attorneys are concerned that the papers clearly contain the provisions discussed and decided upon so that estate lawsuits are avoided.

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:, for an initial consultation.

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