Posted On: April 6, 2012 by Stephen Bilkis

Court Decides Jurisdiction of a Will Contest

This is an appeal filed in the Supreme Court by a party who objected to the probate of the will of a decedent in the Surrogate Court of New York.

The facts of the case state that the decedent was a resident of New York. Sometime in his life, he became a resident of Austria and it was also in the said country that he eventually died. The will of the decedent was submitted for determination in Austria and two years after, the said will was again presented to a Surrogate Court of New York County. A New York Probate Lawyer said that as per reading of the last will and testament, it established the fact that the decedent was a resident of New York and at the same time named a legatee to receive half of the estate. The legatee assigned in the will is also a resident of New York. The properties covered in the will also referred to the properties owned by the decedent and located in the State of New York

The hearing in the court of New York was objected to because of the question regarding the domicile of the decedent. It is alleged that the decedent was a domiciliary of Austria at the time of his death and therefore the court of Austria has jurisdiction in the estate administration of the decedent. Another issue was that the court of Austria has already taken cognizance of the will and in the process of adjudicating on the same. The appellant in effect said that since the Austrian court is already in the process of determining the matters involving the will contest surrounding the will of the decedent, the Surrogate Court of New York must no longer assume jurisdiction because another court which has the proper jurisdiction has already assumed power over the case.

The Surrogate court of New York found no merit to the contention and ruled in favour of the motion to overrule the objection posed against the jurisdiction of the court. The Surrogate Court in effect declared that it has the power and it is actually within its power to receive the will and proceed with the rules as well as the dictates of the will as stated by the testator. Suffolk County Probate Lawyers said that court adapted the stand that the will itself declares the decedent as a resident of New York, the will was executed in New York, the properties are in New York, and the legatee is also a resident of New York.

The party that received the unfavourable ruling of the court appealed the same and on appeal, the higher court affirmed the ruling made by the Surrogate Court by stating that the rule of comity is not enough for the court to surrender its jurisdiction to a foreign court. Another appeal was taken this time to the Court of appeals using the same arguments that Austrian law should govern the estate litigation concerning the decedent’s estate and that this is bolstered by the fact that an Austrian court had actually taken cognizance of the case. Westchester County Probate Lawyers said a motion was then filed in the Court of Appeals to declare the appeal made as moot because the Surrogate Court has already made a ruling.

The other party to the case went to the Supreme Court and appealed that the motion to declare the appeal moot be stricken down or dismissed. The said motion to dismiss the appeal as moot was denied and the Supreme Court ruled that the proceeding in the surrogate court must continue and if the parties will find the need to appeal the determination of the Surrogate Court in relation to the decision made by the Austrian Court, then they can do so later on.

One of the two things unavoidable in life is death. In order to foster the proper transfer of property from the testator to the heirs, the assistance of a New York Estate Lawyer is needed. Stephen Bilkins and Associates is a law firm composed of expert New York Estate Administration Lawyers who are trained to handle property relations involved in last wills and testaments.