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Petitioner Claims Will Signed Under Undue Influence

This is a matter dealing with the probate of an estate. The case is being heard in the Second Department, Appellate Division, of the Supreme Court of the State of New York.

The petitioner is appealing an order that was made in the Surrogates Court of Queens County. The order was issued on the 29th of April, 1986 and denied probate of the purported will on the ground of undue influence and fraud.

Case Background

The records of the case show that petitioner began the instant proceeding to probate a will that was dated the 10th of July, 1980. The will was for her father and designated her as the executrix of his estate.

Objections to probate were filed by the grandson of the testator and nephew of the petitioner. A New York Probate Lawyer said the ground of his objection was that the will in question was a result of undue influence and fraud at the time it was executed.

The petitioner passed away before the trial and her daughter, who was named as the alternate executrix in the purported will substituted for the petitioner in the probate proceeding.

Case Discussion

Queens Probate Lawyers said the case was heard before a jury. The Surrogate submitted the issues of fraud and undue influence before the jury in an interrogatory phrase stating: “was the execution of the will by the decedent made out of his own free will and not as the result of fraud or undue influence of any person or persons.

The jurors ruled against the petitioner and denied the petition for submitting the will for probate. Long Island Probate Lawyers said the petitioner motioned to have the verdict set aside and the Surrogate denied this petition.

It is found that the Surrogate erred in submitting the claim for fraud to the jury as there was an insufficient amount of evidence to support this claim. In order for a fraud claim to be made the objectant must be able to demonstrate that the petitioner made a false statement to the testator that would have caused him to execute the will in a manner that was different than he would have had that statement not been made.

The only proof offered that would have shown fraud was one that was made by the petitioner in her disposition where she stated that she told the testator that objector was the only heir of his deceased mother’s estate and would inherit a portion of the testator’s estate under the terms of his previous will. While this remark may have affected the decision of the testator to change the will, there is no evidence to show that the petitioner knew this statement was false when she made it.

Court Decision

Upon careful review of the facts in this case, the court is reversing the previous decree made by the Surrogates Court of Queens County. The objection to probate on the ground of fraud is hereby dismissed and the matter will be remitted to the Surrogates Court of Queens County for a new trial based on the issue of undue influence only.

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