Articles Posted in Brooklyn

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This case was initiated by JC as administrator of the goods, chattels and credits which were of CP, deceased – for leave to compromise a certain claim for wrongful death and to render and have judicially settled an account of the proceedings as administrator – brought before the Surrogate’s Court of the City of New York, Nassau County.

This is a proceeding for leave to compromise an action for wrongful death and conscious pain and suffering.

On 7 June 2000, the decedent died as a result of injuries he sustained in a construction accident in Bronx, New York. He was survived by his wife and two children all of whom presently reside in Ecuador. On 13 October 2000, the court issued limited letters to petitioner, JC, decedent’s uncle, to commence the instant action.

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This is a proceeding brought before the Surrogate’s Court, Kings County, to prove the last will and testament of AEF – to establish a lost will pursuant to the provisions of Section 143, Surrogate’s Court Act.

On 11 February 1958, the decedent AEF died.

According to the subscribing witnesses of the will, on 4 February 1958, the decedent duly executed a will in accordance with the provisions of Section 21, Decedent Estate Law, and that, at the time of execution, he was fully competent to execute a will and was under no restraint.

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RL died a resident of Wyoming County on January 18, 2006. His Last Will and Testament dated October 3, 2005 was admitted to probate in this court on April 3, 2006. Under the terms of his will the testator divided his estate in equal shares for his three children, but established a testamentary trust for the share for the benefit of his son, JB. The trust provides for the distribution of income as well as principal for the benefit of JB and is not a Supplemental Needs Trust (SNT) as authorized and defined in EPTL 7-1.12.

Although there has been no formal appointment of a guardian for JB pursuant to SCPA Article 17-a or Mental Hygiene Law Article 81, he is alleged to be a person under disability and receives Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicare benefits as a result of his disability. There is no indication that JB is receiving or has received Medicaid or other, local benefits through the Wyoming County Department of Social Services (DSS) or other agency.

The facts are not in dispute and the matter is before the court on cross-motions for Summary Judgment pursuant to CPLR 3212. The two issues presented are:

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The executors have instituted this construction proceeding, prior to the filing of Federal and New York estate tax returns, to determine the effect of a tax exoneration clause, paragraph second and request a reformation or interpretation of paragraph eleventh, which creates a pre1969 residuary, multiple, split-income, charitable remainder trust so as to qualify it for a charitable deduction under U.S.Code, tit. 26, § 2055 as amended by the Tax Reform Act of 1969 (TRA).

The testator died on September 9, 1973, age 92, leaving a daughter, age 64, as his sole distributee, and a granddaughter and three great-grandsons. His will, executed on December 19, 1967 was admitted to probate and letters testamentary issued to petitioners on October 1, 1973. Paragraph second of the will provides: ‘I direct that all my funeral, administration expenses, just debts, and all estate and inheritance or succession taxes (without apportionment) be paid as soon after my death as may be practicable.’

The residuary probate estate, after deducting the pre-residuary outright and in trust bequests, but before estate taxes, is $845,580. Petitioners allege that the loss of the charitable deduction because the trust is not a charitable annuity trust under TRA would increase the estate tax by $163,000. It should be noted that prior to December 31, 1969, the estate would be entitled to a charitable deduction since the amounts payable to the charities could be readily determined. Before proceeding with the construction of paragraphs second and eleventh of the will, the court is called upon to determine a question of jurisdiction, which appears to be of first impression.

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This is a proceeding to construe and reform Article III, the residuary clause, of the last will and testament of the decedent so as to enable the estate to qualify for an unlimited New York estate tax marital deduction. While an application to reform a will to enable the estate to qualify for a deduction for New York estate tax purposes and not federal may be uncommon, it is permissible.

The decedent died on July 21, 1988 survived by a spouse and three children. His will, dated December 14, 1979, was duly admitted to probate on December 19, 1988. Under Article III of the will the residuary estate, which comprises the entire estate with the exception of some personalty previously bequeathed to his wife, is divided into two trusts, Trust A and Trust B. Under Trust A, the decedent bequeathed in trust for his wife the following: “A pecuniary amount equal to the maximum marital deduction allowable to my estate for Federal estate tax purposes ($250,000 or 50% of my adjusted gross estate, as the case may be, less any adjustment required for marital deduction gifts made by me during my lifetime), less the aggregate amount of marital deductions, if any, allowed for interests in property passing or which have passed to my wife otherwise than by the terms of this Article, and less also the amount if any, required to increase my taxable estate to the maximum amount as to which, considering all deductions and credits allowable to my estate, there will be no federal estate tax payable by reason of my death.”

Under the terms of Trust A, his wife receives the entire income for life, to be made at least quarter-annually, and an unrestricted right to invade principal. The wife has a testamentary power of appointment over the corpus and in default thereof, the corpus is to be added to the principal of Trust B. Under the terms of Trust B, the income is to be distributed at least quarter-annually to the spouse for life, subject to her need for the same, with power in the trustee to distribute income amongst the decedent’s descendants and their spouses. The trustee has discretion to invade principal for the benefit of the spouse. Upon the wife’s death, the principal passes equally to the decedent’s children, then living, or their descendants.

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The decedent died on December 31, 1915. His will, made on October 20, 1915, was admitted to probate on March 31, 1916. The Kings County Trust Company was granted letters testamentary on March 31, 1916 and letters of trusteeship on October 24, 1934.

By the ninth paragraph of the will testator gave his residuary estate to his executor, in trust, to pay the net income arising therefrom to his wife, for and during her life. The wife died on March 11, 1959. The will provides that upon her death ‘said trust is to terminate, and the corpus thereof is to go, and I give, devise and bequeath the same, in equal shares, among my then surviving nephews and nieces, and the issue of any deceased nephew or niece (except issue of my niece), such issue taking in equal shares the share their parent would have taken if living. It being my intention not to make the issue of the niece beneficiaries under this my Will.’ The trustee brought this proceeding for the judicial settlement of its account and has requested in its petition ‘That the Court find and determine that, in accordance with the intent of said decedent, as set forth in Paragraph Ninth of his said Will, the net distributable principal of said now terminated trust is primarily divisible into four equal major shares, one each for the lawful issue living at such termination and who represent decedent’s deceased nephews and nieces, respectively, the issue of each said deceased nephew and niece, respectively, to receive, in equal sub-shares, per stirpes, the equal major share which the deceased nephew or niece whom they represent would have taken, if living; and direct distribution accordingly.

The decedent had four nephews and four nieces. All of them died before the termination of the trust. Two nephews and two nieces died without issue. A deceased nephew, was survived by five sons and a daughter. A deceased nephew, left a daughter and a son. Alice Ash, a deceased niece, was survived by two daughters and a grandson, the only child of her deceased son, a deceased niece, was survived by her son Edward V. Barton, and by three grandchildren.

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This action is brought to restrain the violation or the threatened violation by the defendant of a certain restrictive covenant claimed by plaintiffs to affect the lots or parcels of land within an area located in the Borough of Brooklyn now or heretofore known as “Manor’”. The area in question is bounded on the west by Flatbush Avenue, on the north by Lincoln Road, on the east by Rogers Avenue and on the south by Fenimore Street.

In the year 1893, the decedent died testate seized of said real property. His will was duly admitted to probate by the Surrogate of the County of Kings. By said will the testator’s real property was devised to his children and his executors were given a power of sale.

On or about April 28, 1899 said executors caused to be filed in the office of the Clerk of the County of Kings a map entitled ‘Map of Property Belonging to the Estate of the decedent.’ By said map, the land within the area was subdivided into building lots. All of the lots within the tract, except those fronting on Flatbush Avenue, were conveyed by deeds containing a restrictive covenant in form as follows: ‘The party of the second part (Grantee) agrees that neither he nor his heirs or assigns will erect or cause or suffer to be erected on any part of the premises hereby conveyed any building or erection other than a private dwelling house for one family only.’

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The petitioner, a sister of the testator, presents an unwitnessed holographic instrument executed January 9, 1968 (‘January instrument’) and also a duly executed instrument (which has been proved as a will) dated February 20, 1968 (‘February will’). The January holographic instrument necessarily must be denied probate. It was executed in New York; the decedent was not a member of the armed forces; it is unwitnessed. (EPTL 3–2.2, 3–2.1.) As already noted the February will has been duly proved.

The January instrument disposes ‘of my entire personal estate’ to petitioner. The February will provides: ‘FIRST: I ratify and confirm all wills heretofore made by me at any time in every respect, except insofar as the same is inconsistent with the provisions of this codicil. SECOND: I direct that any monies realized from any and all Stocks and Bonds in my name be divided equally between: (listing three brothers and his sister).’

The petition presents an issue under the doctrine of ‘incorporation by reference’ as applied to wills. (see Law Revision Commission Report (1935) p. 431 et seq.; 1963 Report Bennett Comm.; Rept. No. 6.1B pp. 286–350.)

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The defendant moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Section 476 of the Civil Practice Act on the ground that plaintiffs’ complaint fails to state a cause of action. The complaint alleges that plaintiffs are sons of the decedent, there is no indication that they are the only children, and that decedent prior to her death employed the defendant, an attorney, to prepare a will for her execution. It is claimed that decedent directed the defendant to provide for a residuary clause naming plaintiffs as legatees thereof. The decedent could neither read nor write English and she executed the will relying, it is claimed, on defendant’s representation that the residuary clause had been prepared as directed whereas, in fact, the residuary clause was omitted from the will. Although decedent has been dead since January 30, 1961, there is no allegation that the purported will has been admitted to or offered for probate. No copy of the purported will is attached to the complaint nor are any of its provisions pleaded so that the court may know what provisions, if any, were made for the plaintiffs in the purported will. No allegation is made as to the identity of the decedent’s heirs-at-law who would succeed to the residuary estate in the absence of a provision for the disposition thereof in the will.

The issue in this case is whether defendant’s motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Section 476 of the Civil Practice Act on the ground that plaintiffs’ complaint fails to state a cause of action should be granted.

The plaintiffs urge the sufficiency of their complaint on the basis of two California cases. They claim that Goldberg v. Bosworth, 29 Misc.2d 1057, 215 N.Y.S.2d 849 (Special Term, Supreme Court, Kings County, 1961) follows the California decisions. In the Biakanja case, a will was denied probate because the defendant who drew it, a notary public, not an attorney, notarized the will instead of having it subscribed by attesting witnesses. The plaintiff was the sole legatee named in the will and by reason of the denial of probate resulting solely from defendant’s action, he received one-eighth of the estate instead of all of it. The defendant was held liable. In the Lucas case, the defendant attorney in attempting to create a testamentary trust violated the rule against perpetuities and the trust was held invalid. The beneficiaries thereof brought suit. The court sustained the complaint on the theory that the beneficiaries, although not in privity with the defendant attorney, were the primary objects of testator’s bounty and thus the express beneficiaries of the agreement between the testator and defendant attorney for the execution of the will.

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In a proceeding for the judicial settlement of the final account of the preliminary executors and the executors of the will of the deceased, for the period from November 1, 1995, through May 28, 1999, the petitioner appeals, as limited by his brief, from so much of an order of the Surrogate’s Court, Kings County, dated February 9, 2004, as denied his motion for summary judgment fixing his compensation as preliminary executor in the sum of $2,563,803.81 and granted that branch of the cross motion of Long Island College Hospital, Polytechnic University, Chemical Heritage Foundation, and the Attorney General which was for summary judgment limiting his compensation for all services as an executor of the decedent’s will, whether performed as a preliminary executor or as an executor, to the sum of $400,000.

The petitioners, were named co-executors in article fourteen of the decedent’s will, which provides: “The commissions payable to my executors shall be according to the New York statute then in effect, but shall in no event exceed the sum of $800,000, which amount shall be divided between my executors, if more than one shall be serving, as they may agree, recognizing the extent of the duties and the relative difficulty of the duties assumed by each or done by each in his respective tenure in office, and the remaining duties and their extent remaining after his tenure, and I direct that each executor agree in writing to that provision as a condition of qualifying.” In the event either or both nominated executors failed to qualify, nonparty Fiduciary Trust Company International of New York was named as an alternate executor. Following the death of the decedent, petitioners offered the will for probate on November 3, 1995. On the same day, they filed a petition for preliminary letters testamentary.

Preliminary letters testamentary were issued on November 20, 1995. The will was admitted to probate on July 8, 1996. The preliminary letters were vacated, and letters testamentary were issued to petitioners. On November 4, 1996, petitioner filed a renunciation of compensation provided under the will pursuant to SCPA 2307 (5). The other petitioner did not renounce the provision limiting his compensation as executor. On November 25, 1996, the executors, petitioners filed a successful ex parte petition for advance payment of commissions pursuant to SCPA 2311, requesting that each executor receive $200,000 on account of their commission. In his supporting affidavit, petitioner purported to preserve his right to statutory commissions under SCPA 2307 by reason of his renunciation. In July 1999, when the executors filed an account of their administration of the estate and petitioned for the settlement of their account, petitioner requested that he be awarded full statutory commissions of $5,323,112, less the $200,000 advance. Wagner only requested that the court award him $400,000 in compensation as provided in the will, of which $200,000 had been paid. The residuary beneficiaries of the estate, several charitable entities, including Long Island College Hospital, Polytechnic University, and the Chemical Heritage Foundation, as well as the Attorney General, statutory representative of charitable beneficiaries (hereinafter collectively the Charities), objected to the accounting, inter alia, on the ground that petitioner was not entitled to statutory commissions. The Charities contended that the will limited compensation to the sum of $800,000, petitioner was required to either accept the compensation cap or not serve at all, and because he petitioned for preliminary letters testamentary in which he swore that he was entitled to letters testamentary immediately upon the probate of the will, he satisfied the condition precedent to qualifying by implicitly accepting the compensation provided in the will, notwithstanding his renunciation.

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