Articles Posted in Long Island

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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.”

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This is an application by the Public Administrator of the County of Kings for a construction of testatrix’ will and other relief. Testatrix died on December 27, 1919 leaving a will dated February 11, 1905 which was duly admitted to probate in this Court on June 18, 1920. Except for the printed portions of the form used, the instrument was entirely written by pen and ink. After providing for the payment of her lawful debts, testatrix devised all her property, real and personal, to her friend, who was also named sole executrix with the further proviso as follows: ‘after Death the Balance what is left go to my Brothers or their heirs. (naming them) To be Equally divided Between my Brothers or heirs of my Brothers’ (italics, capitalization and spelling as in original).

It appears that upon testatrix’ death took possession of real and personal property of testatrix and by conveyances, transfers, assignments, sales, and alienations, by said testatrix individually and as executrix, the assets of the estate were disposed of among the several persons named in the petition herein. The question posed is whether by testatrix’ will she took a fee or a life estate with or without power of alienation or disposition.

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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.

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The testator left him surviving his widow, three sons, and one daughter, who were his sole heirs at law and next of kin. One of the sons, died June 29, 1900, leaving him surviving three children, one of whom is the plaintiff in this action; the widow, died September 22, 1904, a little over four years after the death of her son, the father of the plaintiff.

At the time of the testator’s death his children were under age and unmarried. The testator died seized of certain real estate in the states of New York, New Jersey, and Vermont. The plaintiff brought this action to partition lands in the county of Kings in this state, asserting she had an interest therein for the reason that under the terms of the will of the interest of her father, one of the remainder men, was subject to be divested by his death during the lifetime of his mother, the life tenant, and upon the death of the latter, having predeceased her, plaintiff with her sisters who were defendants in this action became vested with the share of their father, under the will. The trial justice decided in favor of plaintiff. The judgment entered upon that decision was reversed by the Appellate Division, and the complaint dismissed. Plaintiff and her sisters, defendants, appeal to this court.

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In this probate proceeding petitioner claims that under the terms of the propounded instrument she is entitled to decedent’s net estate and to letters testamentary. The respondents have appeared and filed their consent to probate the instrument, but dispute petitioner’s claim. A construction is requested to determine whether the provisions of paragraph ‘Fourth’ are operative and dispose of decedent’s estate.

The instrument is a joint and mutual will of decedent, and her husband. He died first, on April 30, 1958, leaving only jointly owned property, and his will was therefore not probated. She died on December 13, 1958 leaving personal property. By said will each devised and bequeathed to the survivor the entire net estate, but made no alternative disposition in the event he or she predeceased, except as set forth in paragraph ‘Fourth’ of the will. It is therein provided that in the event the deaths of both of them would occur ‘simultaneously or approximately so, or as a result of a common accident or calamity, or under circumstances causing doubt as to which of us survived the other,’ then the entire net estate was devised and bequeathed to the sister of the decedent herein, and in identical eventualities nominated and appointed her executrix ‘of this our joint and mutual will and testament.’

In another case, this is an application for limited letters of temporary administration. Decedent executed a will in Ireland which was witnessed by the manager for the United States Lines in Ireland and the American Consul in Cork. Beside a small bequest to a friend, the entire residuary is bequeathed to petitioner described as decedent’s granddaughter. The will does not name an executor. The granddaughter petitions for probate of the will and for letters of administration c. t. a. She makes this motion for limited letters of temporary administration so that she can commence an action against the United States Lines before the statute of limitations runs out. This motion is opposed by Agnes Schmidt, one of two sisters who are distributees of decedent, on the ground that the wrongful death suit is ‘exclusively for the benefit of the decedent’s wife, husband, parent, child or dependent relative.’ She argues that petitioner is none of these and that under section 118 of the Surrogate’s Court Act, letters should issue to a distributee, namely, herself, so that she might bring the action against the steamship line.

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This is an appeal from Supreme Court, general term, second department. Proceedings for the probate of the will of the deceased. The will was propounded by testator’s widow, and contested by respondents and others, children of testator. From a decree of the supreme court, general term, (15 N. Y. Supp. 601,) reversing a decree of the surrogate’s court, Kings County, (10 N. Y. Supp. 744,) refusing probate and directing issues for a jury, contestants appeal. Appeal dismissed.

The general term, on appeal from the decree of the surrogate, which admitted to probate the will of 1881, and the codicil thereto, and denied probate to the will of 1887, on the ground that it was obtained by fraud and undue influence, reversed the decree ‘on questions of fact,’ and directed issues to be framed and sent to a jury for trial.

The appeal to this court is taken on the ground that the general term had no power to review the facts, for the reason that the notice of appeal to the general term did not specify that the appeal was taken on the facts, but was, in general terms only, ‘from the decree and each and every part thereof.’ It is insisted that upon such a notice only questions of law presented by exceptions were brought before the general term, and that it could not reverse on the facts upon a consideration of the weight or preponderance of evidence, or because, in its judgment, the facts should be re-examined by a jury. The appellants rely in support of this contention upon section 2576 of the Code of Civil Procedure. That section, which is found in the article relating to appeals from orders or decrees of surrogates, is as follows: ‘The appeal may be taken upon questions of law, or upon the facts, or upon both. If it is taken from a decree rendered upon the trial by the surrogate of an issue of fact, it must be heard upon a case to be made and settled by the surrogate, as prescribed by law for the making and setting of a case upon an appeal in an action.’ The claim is that, if the appellants desire a review upon the facts in the Supreme Court, they must so specify in their notice of appeal. Section 2576 does not require that such specification should be made, nor is it elsewhere prescribed, but this, as is claimed, is an implication from the language of the section. We are not satisfied that this contention is well founded. Section 2574, which prescribes how an appeal may be taken, declares that it must be by written notice, to be served, ‘referring to the decree or order appealed from, and stating that the appellant appeals from the same or from some specified part thereof.’ It is not required that the grounds of the appeal shall be stated in the notice. If, under section 2576, it is necessary to specify that the appeal is upon the facts, in order to give jurisdiction to the appellate court to review them, it would seem equally necessary that, if the appeal was upon the law, it should be so specified, in order to enable the court to review the exceptions. We think section 2576 was intended to declare affirmatively the power of the general term to review both the facts and the law on appeals from surrogate’s decrees, and was not intended to regulate the practice in bringing appeals, except to require that, when the appeal is from a decree rendered upon a trial of an issue of fact, a case must be made and settled, as on an appeal in an action. That was done in this case. The question of undue influence in procuring the will of 1887 was the issue litigated, and upon which the determination of the surrogate proceeded, and a large volume of testimony was presented to the general term, and that court, on reviewing the facts, reversed the decree, and ordered issues. The notice of appeal informed the respondents that the entire decree was challenged, and the case prepared exhibited both the questions of fact and law involved. The rule that in an action tried by a jury a motion for a new trial is necessary to enable the general term to review the facts is based upon reasons wholly inapplicable to the case of a trial before a surrogate.

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The petitioner seeks a final judicial settlement of its accounts as Executor under the last Will and Testament of the deceased. As a part of the judicial settlement, petitioner requests this Surrogate’s Court to direct by appropriate order that future payments of support to decedent’s surviving first wife be made an obligation of the Trustee of decedent’s residuary estate and payable from the income and, if necessary, the principal of that residuary trust.

It appears without dispute that by an agreement dated October 10, 1952, decedent assumed an obligation to pay the sum of $300 a month to his first wife, for her support. It was provided that such monthly payments were to continue for the lifetime of the first wife. The Executor properly concluded that the obligation for payment survived the decedent and was binding upon the estate. The agreement is valid and enforceable. The accounts of the Executor disclose that the required payments have been considered as periodically accruing debts and have been paid monthly by the Executor throughout the administration of the estate.

The issue in this case is whether the final judicial settlement of the executor’s accounts should be granted.

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The petitioner seeks a final judicial settlement of its accounts as Executor under the last Will and Testament of the deceased. As a part of the judicial settlement, petitioner requests this Surrogate’s Court to direct by appropriate order that future payments of support to decedent’s surviving first wife be made an obligation of the Trustee of decedent’s residuary estate and payable from the income and, if necessary, the principal of that residuary trust.

It appears without dispute that by an agreement dated October 10, 1952, decedent assumed an obligation to pay the sum of $300 a month to his first wife, for her support. It was provided that such monthly payments were to continue for the lifetime of the first wife. The Executor properly concluded that the obligation for payment survived the decedent and was binding upon the estate. The agreement is valid and enforceable. The accounts of the Executor disclose that the required payments have been considered as periodically accruing debts and have been paid monthly by the Executor throughout the administration of the estate.

The issue in this case is whether the final judicial settlement of the executor’s accounts should be granted.

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The two cases hereunder is about probate proceedings.

In the first case involves a contested probate proceeding, the Court determines that the propounded instrument was not executed as required by Decedent Estate Law, § 21. This statute requires by subdivision 2 thereof, that decedent’s subscription of the instrument shall be made in the presence of each of the attesting witnesses or shall be acknowledged by him to have been so made to each of such witnesses. By subdivision 3 thereof, the statute requires the decedent to declare that the instrument subscribed by him was his last will and testament. Compliance with only one of these requirements may not be urged to constitute compliance with the other. Since decedent did not subscribe her name in the presence of the witness, Glackman, it was necessary that she acknowledge such signature to this witness. This she did not do. The fact that decedent may have declared the instrument to be her will, as required by subdivision 3, does not serve as a compliance with subdivision 2. In re Banta’s Will, 204 Misc. 985, 128 N.Y.S.2d 334. This is especially so where, as here, the appended signature is in a foreign language which the witness cannot read (1 Davids on New York Law of Wills, § 301).

The Court finds that decedent did not subscribe the instrument in the presence of the two attesting witnesses and did not acknowledge such subscription to be her signature to said witnesses as required by the statute.

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The two subscribing witnesses testified to the due execution of decedent’s holographic will and to her testamentary capacity at the time of the execution; that the last page of the instrument, the only one they saw, bore no additional writings below their signatures.

The changes in the street numbers of the addresses of the legatees under items 13 and 14 are immaterial, as well as the interlineation of the amount of the legacy of item 13, as the amount thereof was increased by figures immediately above it and that in turn was interlined and the original amount reinstated with the initials of the decedent above it; the amount of item 16 was interlined, and a lesser sum substituted therefor immediately above it, which in turn was likewise interlined and the original amount restored. Equally immaterial is the phrase in item 15 which reads in payment of money ($500) she gave my sister Mae and for which I thank her. Those interlineations and additions being fair upon their face and unexplained by any evidence to the contrary must be presumed to have been made before the execution of the will. Crossman v. Crossman, 95 N.Y. 145, 153.

The Court finds that the following legacies were originally written in the following sums: item 6–$1,000; item 17–$100; item 18–$100; item 19-$50; and item 20-$200, which sums were interlined and other sums substituted in their places; the interlineations were made either in pencil or ink and the substituted sums in ink, which ink interlineations and substitutions are in different color ink than the original legacies, wherefore it is found that such interlineations and substitutions of different sums were made subsequent to the execution of the will. Matter of Ross’ Will, 177 App.Div. 719, 164 N.Y.S. 884.

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