New York Wills Need to Be Properly Prepared and Signed

The preparation and signing of Wills in New York is an important part of the estate planning process. Creating documents such as a Last Will, Living Will, Health Care Proxy and Living Trust is an important first step in expressing a persons intentions for property disposition and personal care management.

As part of the process of implementing these important documents, it is essential to obtain proper guidance and supervision regarding the preparation and execution of such papers.  The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has posted many articles describing cases where Wills have been the subject of Will Contests, especially where questions arise as to the manner in which the Will signing took place.  Also, there are many instances where Estate Litigation has occurred due to provisions or clauses in Trusts or Wills that are confusing or ambiguous.  Obviously, seeking the assistance of an Estate Lawyer to help with the drafting and preparation of planning papers can diminish the possibility of a lawsuit by a disgruntled relative who has been disinherited.  Also, following the statutory mandates for Will execution  insures that the intentions of a testator can be fulfilled and that a validly prepared Will can be admitted to probate.

Estates, Powers and Trusts Law Section 3-2.1 entitled, “Execution and attestation of wills; formal requirements”, provides the statutory requirements for Will signing.   Among other provisions, the Will should be in writing, it should be signed at the end and there should be two attesting witnesses.  When the fundamental steps for Will execution are not adhered to conflicts arise in the Surrogate’s Court in the Probate Proceeding.

A recent case that was reported in The New York Times by Sarah Mashin Nir on October 23, 2016 provides a classic example of the problems that are created when a Will is not properly witnessed. In this case two friends, Bill Cornwell and Tom Doyle, lived together in a West Village Townhouse for more than 50 years. When Cornwell died he had devised the building to Doyle in his Will. A problem arose, however, since the Will was witnessed by only one person and not two as is required by EPTL 3-2.1. Therefore, if the Will was not validly executed, Cornwell’s entire estate, including the townhouse, would automatically pass to Cornwell’s distributees (ie., his next of kin) and not to Doyle. Doyle and Cornwell were not married and had no kinship relation.

While Cornwell appears certainly to have not intended this outcome, the lack of a proper Will execution thrust his estate into litigation where the outcome may be completely outside of Cornwell’s intention.

As can be seen from the above situation it is important to consult with an experienced Probate attorney regarding the proper execution of Wills and Trusts. I have assisted clients for over 30 years in implementing their estate plans and probating estates. Call me now for a free review of your estate or probate issue.

An experienced New York trusts and estates lawyer can assist with guidance for proper Will preparation and execution. 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 New York and Kings 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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