In this case, during a 1404 examination of the two execution witnesses, Surrogate’s Court had to determine if the decedent’s will had been properly witnessed given the unusual execution ceremony. For a will to be valid in New York, it must be properly executed. This means that the will must be signed at the end by the testator or at the direction of the testator in their presence. It must also be signed by at least two witnesses in the presence of the testator. Under SCPA § 1404, before a will can be admitted to probate, at least two of the attesting witnesses must appear in court and be questioned by the court.
In Matter of William Ryan the testator was in poor health at the time his will was drafted. In addition, because of COVID, there were restrictions on gatherings. As a result, attorneys found themselves conducting business differently in they would under pre-pandemic conditions. The original plan was for the will to be executed in the parking lot of the office of the attorney who drafted the will. However, Ryan’s conditioned worsened before that happened, and he was hospitalized. The hospital had implemented strict rules to minimize the spread of COVID. As a result, guests were not allowed to visit patients. In order to execute the will, a hospital social worker had to assist.
The social worker delivered the will to Ryan and was present when he signed it. The video feature of a cell phone was used along with a computer at the attorney’s office so that the attorney and the witnesses could be “present” when Ryan signed the will. Immediately after Ryan signed the will, the original was driven back to the attorney’s office where the two witnesses executed the attestation clause and the witness affidavit. The attestation clause and affidavit had been stapled to the original will in a will.