Articles Posted in Nassau

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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.

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This is an appeal from the Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Second Department brought before the Court of Appeals of New York. First, an application was filed by LK, as executrix of the last will and testament of DFK, for the appointment of an appraiser to determine the value of the estate, and to fix the amount of transfer tax due thereon. Thereafter, the Surrogate of Kings County issued an order confirming the report of the appraiser. This was subsequently affirmed in an order by the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court for the Second Department. Consequently, the applicant appealed. The instant Court affirmed.

DFK died in the city of Brooklyn, leaving a last will and testament. On 10 September 1895, the will was admitted to probate. Only LK, the appellant, qualified as executrix thereof. Subsequently, she petitioned the surrogate of Kings County for the appointment of an appraiser to determine the value of the estate, and fix the amount of transfer tax due therefrom.

The will of the decedent, so far as material to the questions involved in this appeal, provides as follows: ‘I give, devise, and bequeath all my estate, real and personal, of whatsoever kind and wheresoever situated, unto my three sisters, MK, AK, and LK.’

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The testatrix died January 10, 1914 leaving a will which was admitted to probate April 15, 1914. By paragraph ‘Fourth’ of her will she left her residuary estate in trust, and in substance provided that income be payable to a grandnephew for life, and upon his death that the trust be distributed to such of his children or their issue in such proportions as he might be will appoint, the power of appointment being limited, however, to his children or their issue who survived him, and in default of any such will or any such appointment, that the trust pass to the children of the grandnephew and the issue of any who had died per stirpes.

By paragraph ‘Fifth’ of the will testatrix provided that in case the grandnephew dies ‘intestate after me without lawful issue him surviving’ the trust shall be distributed to ‘my heirs at law and next of kin’. Such grandnephew died without issue on October 20, 1957, but whether or not he died intestate is questioned. The reason for the question is because he left a will under which he gave his entire estate to his mother and named her executrix. His mother, however, had predeceased him so that his will was wholly ineffective as a dispositive testamentary instrument as well as ineffective to name an executor. The will was, nevertheless, admitted to probate in another county, and letters of administration issued to one of his distributees who has since died.

Since the grandnephew had no children, the limited power of appointment could not have been and was not exercised and for the same reason the gift-over to children and issue of the grandnephew under paragraph ‘Fourth’ in default of appointment could not take effect. The result is that testatrix must be considered intestate as to the disposition of the trust after death of the income beneficiary unless some other provision of the will prevent such intestacy. If intestacy does result distribution must be to decedent’s heirs and next of kin determined as of the date of her death in 1914.

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Plaintiff moves pursuant to CPLR § 3213 for an Order granting summary judgment in lieu of complaint for payment allegedly owed on a promissory note. “Defendants” or “the Estate”, as executors of the Estate of the decedent cross-move for summary judgment dismissing this proceeding pursuant to § 1810 of the Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act.

This case arises from a loan transaction between plaintiff and the decedent a real estate developer. Prior to his death, he was a 55% owner in Flatbush Extension, LLC (“Flatbush Extension”), which owned properties located at 67, 75, and 85 Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn. On or about March 27, 2007, U.S. Bank and Flatbush Extension entered into a secured loan agreement (the “Loan Agreement”) pursuant to which the parties agreed that Flatbush Extension could borrow up to $50,000,000 in connection with the development of a luxury condominium project (“Flatbush Extension Project”).

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In this proceeding the sister of the decedent individually and as administratrix with the will annexed of the estate of the deceased, for the allowance of a claim against the estate of deceased husband of which respondent is executor. Judgment of the Special Term allowing the claim in part, was affirmed in part and reversed in part by the Appellate Division, and claimant appeals.

In 1903 the husband and his wife, lived in Brooklyn. The wife owned a building at Classon Avenue, in a part of which she lived with her husband. On January 17, 1903, she made her will, and on March 27, 1903, she died. By her will she made her husband executor and gave her sister, $1,000. She then provided: ‘Fourth. I give and bequeath to my beloved husband all of the rest and remainder of my estate both real and personal to have and to hold the same to him, his heirs and assigns forever, with the understanding that at the decease of the said husband all of the estate which he shall derive under this will which shall then remain by him undisposed of he shall give and turn over to my sister.’

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In a proceeding to probate the last will and testament of the decedent respondent appeals (1) from an order of the Surrogate’s Court, Kings County, dated October 14, 1992, which (a) denied her motion, inter alia, to declare that the decedent was domiciled in Florida at the time of his death and to resettle a decree of the same court, dated August 7, 1992, to provide that the decedent was not a New York domiciliary, and (b) granted the administrator’s cross motion for a decree declaring that . validly exercised her right of election and that the decedent was domiciled in New York at the time of his death, and (2) as limited by her brief, from so much of an order of the same court, dated March 17, 1993, as directed the Dime Savings Bank to deliver the entire balance in Account No. 800003241 to the administrator.

The Surrogate erred in finding that the decedent was a domiciliary of New York at the time of his death as the appellant demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence that the decedent had changed his domicile from New York to Florida. Contrary to the recitation in the August 7, 1992, decree and plaintiff’s contention, the appellant did not stipulate that New York was the decedent’s domicile. The record of the proceedings before the Surrogate on July 7, 1992, does not reflect any such agreement.

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In a probate proceeding in which legatee petitioned pursuant to SCPA to compel the payment of a legacy, nonparty appeals, by permission, from so much of an order of the Surrogate’s Court, Kings County, dated December 4, 2008, as, sua sponte, disqualified his law firm, and all members and associates of that firm, from appearing as the petitioner’s attorney.

The appellant was employed for many years as chief court attorney of the law department of the Surrogate’s Court, Kings County (hereinafter the Law Department). In February 2008, shortly after retiring from government service, he joined the Rubenstein firm, a small law firm specializing in estate practice. Prior to his association, the Rubenstein firm was composed of only two other attorneys. In late November or early December 2006, before appellant left his employment as chief court attorney, the firm was retained to represent the petitioner in this Surrogate’s Court proceeding.

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In these two proceedings to compel the production of the wills of the decedent, the children of the decedent, who are also the stepchildren of the testator, ask the court to seal the documents which have been produced by the respondent. By petitions dated July 25, 2008, petitioners sought to compel the New York City Police Department (NYPD) to produce documents in their possession purporting to be the wills of the testators. Pursuant to SCPA 1401, the court directed the NYPD to produce any documents in their possession purporting to be the decedents’ wills in court on August 12, 2008.

On August 12, 2008, counsel for the petitioners, counsel for the testator’s parents, and counsel for the NYPD appeared in court. The NYPD complied with the order and turned over the documents to the court. Asserting that matters contained in the documents may cause embarrassment to the decedents and their families, the petitioners, joined by the testator’s parents and the NYPD, made an oral application to seal the documents. The court declined to entertain the oral application and instead provided the petitioners, and the testator’s parents, as well as the NYPD, with an opportunity to submit their written application by August 14, 2008. In the interim, the court has maintained the relevant documents in chambers. The petitioners submitted their written application, while the testator’s parents and the NYPD did not.

The issue in this case is whether the NYPD can be compelled to produce the documents in their possession purporting to be the wills of the testators.

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The Appellate Division has affirmed a decree of the surrogate of Kings County, which admitted to probate the will of the deceased, and which construed certain of its provisions. It consisted of two instruments, a will and a codicil, both of which were wholly written by the testator and were executed a few years before his death. The testator died April 9, 1909, unmarried and leaving no descendants. The will was executed in 1899. By its first and second articles the testator gave to his nieces respectively, legacies of $75,000 and $50,000. He directed that the two legacies should be held in trust, and that ‘the income shall be paid only to said legatees respectively and an amount of ten thousand dollars ($10,000) of the principal may be paid to each of them if they so elect when they attain the age of 30 years, to purchase and furnish a home.

The remainder of their respective legacies shall remain in trust and in case of the death of either of them without issue, before the death of their legatee under Art. IV herein, then the share of such decedent shall in such event revert to her the said Inez Hoffman. And in case either said nieces should die without issue subsequently to the death of their Aunt they said and prior to the death of their grandmother then in such case their respective shares shall in like manner revert to their grandmother.’ Article 3 gave to his brother, a plantation in Louisiana. By article 4 the testator gave to his sister, , known in the family as a legacy of $125,000, to be held in trust ‘and the income thereof to be paid to herself only, with this proviso however that she may if she wish draw not exceeding Ten Thousand dollars ($10,000) with which to purchase and furnish a home for herself. In case of her death without issue and prior to that of her mother, all her interest herein shall revert to her mother.’ He also gave to her all his ‘interest in and to the estate’ of his mother. By article 6 the testator appoints his mother his ‘residuary legatee, the amount to be placed in trust as herein provided in Art. VIII, for her sole benefit, and the income come thereof to be paid to her.

At her death, the principal and any accumulated income there may be shall be divided pro rata between the legatees named in articles I, II, and IV herein respectively upon the basis of their respective legacies herein and to be subject to the same trust restrictions stated herein appertaining to their several legacies hereunder.’ By article 8 the testator appointed the Union Trust Company of the city of New York as the trustee for the trusts in his will and as the executor thereof. A year later the testator executed the codicil. By that instrument he, first revoked the legacies given in article 4 of the will to his sister Inez and substituted in place thereof the sum of ‘$25,000, SUBJECT TO ALL THE CONDITIONS and terms as expressed in said art. iv, with this exception to wit: that the sum of $2,500, instead of ten thousand dollars, be allowed her out of said amount for purchase of a home for herself if she so elects.’ Next he bequeathed to his sister, the sum of $35,000 and to his brother, the sum of $10,000, and then provided as follow: ‘And I hereby make these two legatees, upon the death of my mother, pro rata residuary legatees under the terms and conditions as set forth in Art. VI herein, as additional residuary legatees. The above legacy to his brother is in addition to the one in his favor under Art. III herein.’

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The proceeding before the court is one for construction of paragraph “THIRD” of the will of the decedent. It has a long and checkered history before the court. The facts, not complex in themselves, but made so because of the number of parties and their constantly altering positions, unfortunately, requires review in detail to do justice to all. The legal issues presented are unusual and present questions of procedure as well as substance, not typically found in probate proceedings. Under paragraph THIRD of his will, the testator bequeathed his residuary estate, valued upon the accounting at $50,393.65, to “The Franciscan Fathers, Christ the King Seminary, St. Bonaventure University, Olean, New York, with the request that High Masses be said for the repose of my Soul and the repose of the Soul of my said wife. The question of the identity of the residuary legatee or legatees first arose on proceedings for judicial settlement.

On October 18, 1976, court was convened on the construction proceeding pursuant to order for the purpose of taking such proof and making such decree as justice requires pursuant to provisions of Sec. 1420, Subd. (1) of SCPA. The attorney for the executrix was called as a witness. His testimony, given without objection, was as follows: He was the scrivener of the will; he had known the testator and his wife for several years and had been their attorney on prior occasions; he had drawn the will of the testator’s wife as well as the testator; the testator’s wife for several years had been an employee of one of the Franciscan Friars at St. Bonaventure University; illness had compelled her to cease her employment immediately before the wills were prepared; under her will, the wife provided for a legacy to the Friars at St. Bonaventure University; the testator and his wife were very close; the provisions for the bequest of the residuary estate of the testator’s will had been influenced by his wife’s position.

The attorney-scrivener testified that he knew the intention of the testator from his conversations with him. He swore on at least three occasions that he had been given specific direction that the residuary legacy was to be given to the “Franciscan Friars at St. Bonaventure, N.Y.”. The emphasis of the direction of the testator was to geography and to location. As to the phrasing employed in identifying the legatee, the attorney-scrivener testified: “If there is any inadvertence in the third paragraph or confusion as to its interpretation, its simply the manner in which I worded the phrase”. The attorney-scrivener testified that he had not known that there was a separate Friary that operated in connection with the Seminary and was of the opinion that the testator did not know that fact either, although the matter had not been specifically discussed.

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