Posted On: April 8, 2012 by Stephen Bilkis

Petitioner Seeks Order Vacating Settlement Agreement

In this probate proceeding, petitioner filed a motion seeking an order of vacating a settlement agreement and a renunciation and disclaimer of its purported execution to render said stipulation effective.

Decedent was survived by his spouse, herein petitioner, and two children of decedent from prior marriage as respondents to the probate proceeding in Nassau County Surrogate Court.

A New York Probate Lawyer said the petitioner filed a petition for probate of decedent’s will in Nassau County Surrogate Court and preliminary letters testamentary was issued in her favor. Decedent's son was represented counsel and negotiations for settlement proceeded between parties to the case. The dialogues resulted in a stipulation of settlement. Settlement stipulated that a certain asset plan of the decedent be divided equally among the spouse and two children of the decedent in trust. The will provided that residuary estate be allocated as follows: 65% to the spouse, 25% to the daughter, and 10% to the decedent’s sister.

Decedent did not designate any beneficiary to the plan and, under its terms, the spouse became the beneficiary by default. Petitioner had no knowledge that she was considered the default beneficiary of the plan of the decedent believing instead that it was the decedent’s estate who is the plan’s beneficiary. Decedent’s spouse further alleged that her counsel made inquiries about the terms of the plan and, before any information was acquired by her, she already renounced her share in the interest of the plan in excess of the agreed share in the settlement. Had she known that she was the sole beneficiary, she would not have made such renunciation in the first place.

In the opposition file the respondents, they claimed that the settlement agreement expressed the true intentions of the parties, petitioner’s designation as the plan’s beneficiary was irrelevant to the case because of the settlement covering both testamentary and non-testamentary assets of the decedent’s estate and that, since petitioner is appointed as preliminary executrix, she .has access to the financial records of the estate giving her time to read and review the plan prior to her renunciation. Brooklyn Probate Lawyers sai the respondents further argued that petitioner’s renunciation was irrevocable.

As stated in a settled cases by the Court, “A contract entered into under mutual mistake of fact is voidable and subject to rescission if the mistake exists at the time the contract was negotiated and the mistake is substantial, resulting in an absence of the requisite ‘meeting of minds’” between the parties. As in the issue at hand, settlement agreement is considered a contract and the same requisite applies for motion to vacate stipulation of settlement on the ground of mutual mistake.

On the other hand, respondents contended that petitioner committed negligence for not exercising due diligence in the determination of assets of the decedent wherein she was appointed as preliminary executrix. Long Island Probate Lawyers said the spouse had the opportunity to acquire knowledge that she was the beneficiary designated to the asset plan of the decedent absent of negligence and fault on her part.

Furthermore, the Court recognized the well-settle rule that "stipulations of settlement which put an end to litigation promote efficient dispute resolution and are essential to the litigation process" and also that “stipulations are especially favored where, as here, the parties have been represented by counsel.”

Considering these several factors, the Court found no sufficient ground to grant the motion to vacate of the stipulation of settlement and reliefs prayed for by petitioner. The Court, as such, denied the motion to vacate of the stipulation of settlement as well as the renunciation filed by the petitioner.

To minimize length of resolving litigations in court, parties to a case would resort to entering into settlement agreement among them. We at Stephen Bilkis and Associates have Nassau County Estate Lawyers that can help you expedite the resolution of probate litigation. One of the options you may consider is entering into stipulation of settlement among the estate beneficiaries and it is considered best that you hire the legal services of our Nassau County Probate Lawyers in order to safeguard your interest in the estate.