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The Probate of a New York Will Is Not Prevented By a Contract Regarding Dispositions

New York Estate Lawyers frequently refer to Estates, Powers and Trusts Law (EPTL) Section 3-2.1 regarding the formalities required with regard to execution and witnessing of a Last Will. When a petition is filed with the Surrogate’s Court to have a Will admitted to probate, the statutes require that notice of the proceedings be given to the decedent’s next of kin (“distributees”). As discussed in many of the posts in the New York Probate Lawyer Blog, the distributees have a right to file Objections to the Will. In the event the Will is denied probate, then the decedent’s estate is distributed to the heirs as if the decedent died intestate. There are a number of basic Objections that can be set forth in Estate Litigation regarding a Will. These objections include lack of due execution, lack of testamentary capacity, undue influence and duress or coersion. A Will Contest is the part of the probate process where the issues regarding these various objections are finally determined.

The various grounds upon which to base a Will Contest do not generally involve other issues concerning the enforceability or interpretation of Will provisions. A recent case entitled Estate of Attea, decided by Erie County Surrogate Barbara Howe on June 17, 2015, reflects the limited issues involved when determining a Will’s validity.

In Attea, the decedent had been a nun and had taken the customary vows of chastity and poverty and, pursuant to her faith, she had executed a Will leaving her estate to the Congregation and designated the Congregation president as her Executor.

As it turned out, the decedent was injured in a motor vehicle accident and received a very large monetary recovery. Thereafter, before her death, the decedent executed a new Will which left a good portion of her valuable estate to her natural brothers. Upon the filing of the proceeding for probate, the Congregation interposed objections which included an objection based upon the assertion that the decedent had breached her contract with the Congregation and her vow of poverty.

The Court refused to deny probate based upon this alleged breach and found that the validity of the Will according to the standards required for probate was separate and apart from the issues as to whether claimants had a right to enforce the alleged contractual provisions. The Court held that after the Will was admitted to probate, the Congregation might then, in a separate proceeding, seek to enforce its alleged contractual right to have payment of the estate assets made to the Congregation rather than have the Will provisions direct the payment of the estate assets to the decedent’s brothers.  Thus, Attea shows that Will contest proceedings are strictly limited to matters affecting the validity of a Will and that other issues regarding the interpretation of Will provisions and the enforceability of claims regarding estate assets must be dealt with in separate Court proceedings.

I have represented clients concerning many different issues regarding the probate of a Will and Will contests. If you have a question or issue regarding a probate matter call me for a free review at (212) 355-2575 or email: jules.haas@verizon.net, for an initial consultation.

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 Suffolk and Nassau and other counties.

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