Articles Posted in Suffolk County

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This is a motion for an order directing the proponent, who is decedent’s widow, to appear for an examination before trial to enable petitioner to frame objections to the propounded instrument bearing date March 10, 1961, and for other relief.

The filing of a petition and service of a citation in a Surrogate’s Court proceeding is analogous to the service of a summons and complaint in an action brought in a court of record pursuant to the Civil Practice Act. Under Article 29 of the Civil Practice Act, § 288 et seq. and the Rules of Civil Practice, a party served with a summons and complaint may be afforded an examination of the complainant or other party in order to frame an answer (Cuban Telephone Co. v. Conklin, 196 App.Div. 463, 187 N.Y.S. 817). Movant, petitioner herein, is one of decedent’s distributees named in the propounded instrument, and in the probate petition and the citation served upon her. Movant is in the position of a defendant served with a summons and complaint, while proponent may be compared to a plaintiff in such an action. The fact that a pro forma answer in the nature of a general denial may be filed is no bar to such examination since a defendant may not know at the time whether he wishes to defend at all (Cuban Telephone Co. v. Conklin, 196 App.Div. 463, 465, 466, 187 N.Y.S. 817, 818, supra; Boyd v. Boyd, 276 App.Div. 1013 1014, 95 N.Y.S.2d 268, 269; Public National Bank v. National City Bank, 261 N.Y. 316-319-320, 185 N.E. 395-396; St. John v. Putnam, 128 Misc. 707, 220 N.Y.S. 146) . The present application is somewhat analogous thereto. The provisions of the Civil Practice Act apply to proceedings in the Surrogate’s Court (Surrogate’s Court Act, § 316).

A Suffolk County Probate Lawyers said that, the Surrogate has incidental powers with respect to ‘all matters subject to the cognizance of the court, according to the course and practice of a court having common law jurisdiction of such matters, except as otherwise prescribed by statute’. The Court of Appeals in one case, 248 N.Y. 67, at page 72, 161 N.E. 421, at page 423, said, ‘the powers that are specific shall hereafter be read as being ‘in addition to and without limitation or restriction on’ the powers that are general.’ Surrogate’s Court Act, § 20, subd. 11. Section 40 of the Surrogate’s Court Act confers jurisdiction upon the Court to administer justice in all matters relating to the affairs of decedents, as to any and all matters necessary to be determined in order to effect complete disposition of the matter.

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The law firms seek to determine and enforce charging liens pursuant to section 475 of the Judiciary Law. The liens would secure fees claimed by the Firms for legal services to respondent under a retainer agreement dated July 10, 2006 (the “2006 Retainer”). The Firms represented him in a decade-long dispute among several family members, involving various real estate holdings and family trusts. The dispute had been punctuated by at least two abortive settlements, the latter one in 2004. On January 3, 2008, however, the family internecine battles ended in a global settlement placed on the record in open court and then further memorialized in a written stipulation implemented by a closing on August 27-29, 2008. The liens now claimed by the Firms relate to his share of the proceeds of that settlement.

Discovery having concluded, the Firms and respondent have cross-moved for partial summary judgment. The issues raised on these motions involve the validity of the 2006 Retainer, its allegedly wrongful procurement, and, if it is valid, the meaning of several of its terms and the extent (if any) to which William’s obligations under it are subject to conditions that have not been satisfied. The Firms acknowledge that the sums to which they are entitled for work resulting in the 2008 settlement cannot be fully determined without a hearing. Respondent for his part asserts that a hearing is needed to determine the Firms’ fees for hourly services in the litigation preceding that settlement.

The 2006 Retainer was drafted and executed on its letterhead. As described below, the Retainer provides for fees in respect of both settlement-related work and litigation-related work. Settlement-related work gives rise to two types of fees: a flat fee and a performance fee, both contingent upon the effectuation of a settlement. Settlement itself is defined as “a settlement among substantially all of the descendants of the decedent and the trusts and estates thereof.”

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In a probate proceeding, the petitioner, appeals from so much of a decree of the Surrogate’s Court, Kings County, dated July 1, 2004, as denied that branch of her cross motion which was for the issuance of preliminary letters testamentary to her for the estate of the decedent and granted those branches of the motion of the objectant, which were to deny the issuance of preliminary letters testamentary to the petitioner for that estate, to disqualify the petitioner from service as executrix, and to issue letters of administration to the objectant.

A testator or testatrix has the right to determine who is most suitable among those legally qualified to settle his or her affairs, and that selection is not to be lightly discarded. While the Surrogate may disqualify a person from receiving letters of administration where the friction between such person and a beneficiary interferes with the proper administration of the estate.

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As an incident to trustee’s intermediate account of four trusts created under articles ‘Seventh,’ ‘Eighth’ and ‘Ninth’ of the will, the Court’s instruction is sought as to the investments authorized by article ‘Fourteenth’ of the will and as to significance to be given to the term ‘fiscal agent’ as used therein.

The Testator died a resident of Kings County, on February 14, 1924, leaving a will dated May 11, 1920, which was admitted to probate on April 11, 1924. The petitioner’s predecessor, a trust company, was appointed executor and trustee thereunder.

The portion of the will to be construed expressly states that the authority to invest shall be limited by the following: ‘Nor shall it invest in any shares or securities of which it may be promoter or underwriter, or of any corporation for which it shall be the fiscal agent.’

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In this probate proceeding, the proponent, one of the decedent’s daughters and the sole residuary legatee under the propounded instrument dated March 8, 1983, seeks leave to move for summary judgment more than 120 days after she filed a note of issue. In the event that the first branch of the application is granted, the proponent moves for summary judgment dismissing the objections to probate interposed by one of her sisters and admitting the will to probate. The objectant’s papers in opposition only address the proponent’s motion for summary judgment.

The issue in this case is whether the motion for summary judgment dismissing the objections to probate should be granted.

The court said that CPLR 3212 (a) application for leave to move for summary judgment may only be granted “on good cause shown.” Although the proponent’s motion was not filed with the court until more than eight months after the note of issue was filed, the objectant is primarily responsible for the proponent’s delay in moving for summary judgment because the objectant requested additional disclosure after the note of issue was filed and then failed to conduct the requested deposition in a timely fashion. Specifically, after the note of issue was filed, the objectant moved to strike it and sought further disclosure. That application was granted to the extent that the objectant was granted leave to conduct a deposition that she requested no later than approximately five months after the date the note of issue was filed. The parties thereafter extended the time to conduct the deposition for a period of approximately two more months. After the objectant’s counsel cancelled an agreed-upon deposition date, the proponent’s counsel notified him that he would not agree to any further extensions without a court order. The objectant never moved for another extension to conduct the deposition and the instant application was filed approximately one week after a pretrial conference with the court.

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There are three proceedings pending in the estate of the decedent: (1) a miscellaneous proceeding to declare the decedent Living Trust dated March 19, 2001 invalid; (2) a proceeding to probate an instrument dated March 19, 2001 as the decedent’s last will and testament; and (3) a proceeding by the trustee of the decedent Living Trust dated March 19, 2001, to judicially settle his account for the period from March 19, 2001 to May 9, 2007. On July 1, 2010, the court appointed a guardian ad litem for one of the decedent’s daughters, in all three proceedings.

The decedent died on May 9, 2007, survived by four distributees: two daughters; a son; and a granddaughter, the only child of the decedent’s predeceased son. The propounded will pours over to the living trust. The living trust provides only for the son, specifically omits the two daughters, and does not mention the granddaughter.

The guardian ad litem has filed a preliminary report in which he details his findings to date and, based upon them, recommends that he continue to represent his ward’s interests in all three proceedings. The guardian ad litem reports that one of the daughters has alleged that the decedent’s son exerted undue influence and fraud upon the decedent at a time when he was physically ill and depressed. The guardian ad litem states that, based on his investigation, he deems it appropriate to participate in the SCPA 1404 examinations in the probate proceeding and to continue to represent his ward’s interests in all three proceedings. The court agrees with his conclusions.

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In this contested probate proceeding, objectant pro se, moves for an order granting her a trial by jury. The proceeding was commenced by petitioner on December 15, 2005. Respondent filed objections to probate on August 3, 2006.The decedent died testate on October 24, 2005. Petitioner is decedent’s sister; she is a distributee, as well as the nominated executor and residuary beneficiary under the propounded instrument dated May 11, 1974. Respondent is a distributee; she is a daughter of one of the decedent’s pre-deceased brothers. She does not receive anything under the propounded instrument.

The respondent asserts that she verbally requested a jury trial at conferences before two different court attorney-referees and was “told that the conference would be first.”1 She contends that she was not informed that a jury demand had to be in writing, although she also states her belief that she “signed for this.” Had Katherine advised the court that she wanted a jury trial, she would have been advised to file a jury demand.

The issue in this case is whether respondent’s motion for an order granting her a trial by jury should be granted.

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In this probate proceeding, two non-marital children have moved to have their status as children entitled to benefits under the after-born statute (EPTL 5-3.2) determined. In a prior decision (Dec. No. 80, Feb. 7, 2008), the court ruled that any question regarding a party’s status in a probate proceeding should be determined as a preliminary matter and stayed all other proceedings. Rather than question any of the underlying facts, such as proof of paternity, the parties have consented to have the motion submitted assuming the truth of the movant’s allegations for a determination of whether as a matter of law those allegations state a cause of action entitling the claimants to after-born status.

The decedent died on January 13, 2007, survived by eleven children; three from a first marriage, four from a second marriage and four alleged non-marital children. The will offered for probate benefits only one child from the first marriage, the petitioner and named executrix, who inherits the entire estate valued at several million dollars.

EPTL 5-3.2 creates a rule of presumed intent for a testator who may have inadvertently omitted a child born after he executed his will. If he gave something to existing children and the after-born is neither provided for nor mentioned in the will and unprovoked for by some settlement, the after-born shares in the gift to existing children. Case law has granted non-marital after-born children the same rights as marital after-born children if they can establish their inheritance rights under EPTL 4-1.2. Since the Wilkins case was decided, the after-born statute has been amended to address the rights of after-born non-marital children (L. 2007 ch. 423, eff. Aug 1, 2007). The amendment provides: “For purposes of this section, a non-marital child, born after the execution of a last will shall be considered an after-born child of his or her father where paternity is established pursuant to section 4-1.2 of this chapter.”

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A probate proceeding in which HW, a/k/a JW, petitioned pursuant to SCPA 1421, inter alia, to determine the validity and effect of an election pursuant to EPTL 5-1.1-A asserted by her against the estate of the decedent IB, the co-executors of the decedent’s estate, JB and HB, appeal, as limited by their brief, from (1) so much of an order of the Surrogate’s Court, Kings County dated July 3, 2008, as granted the petitioner’s motion for summary judgment on the petition and directed dismissal of their counterclaims, without prejudice, and (2) so much of a decree of the same court dated August 5, 2008, as, upon the order, in effect, is in favor of the petitioner and against them granting the petition, declaring that the election was valid, and dismissing their counterclaims, without prejudice, and the petitioner cross-appeals from (1) so much of the order as, upon directing the dismissal of the counterclaims asserted by JB and HB, did so without prejudice, and (2) so much of the decree, as, upon the order, and upon dismissing the counterclaims, did so without prejudice.

The appeal from the intermediate order must be dismissed because the right of direct appeal therefrom terminated with the entry of the decree. The issues raised on the appeal from the order are brought up for review and have been considered on the appeal from the decree.

In 1982 IB (hereinafter the decedent), an extremely successful businessman who founded the Berk Trade and Business School (hereinafter the School), executed a will. In his will, the decedent named his two sons, JB and HB, as the co-executors of his estate.

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The two case hereunder is about probate proceedings.

The first case is the proceeding to establish a lost will pursuant to Surrogate’s Court Act, § 143. The testimony of the two subscribing witnesses establishes that decedent executed a will on or about February 27, 1948, in full compliance with the provisions of Decedent Estate Law, § 21 and that at that time he was of sound mind and under no restraint.

The attorney-draftsman, who was also one of the subscribing witnesses, testified that the will was turned over to decedent’s son for safekeeping immediately upon its execution. He further testified that he made an exact carbon copy of the original will which he conformed and kept in his files. The said carbon counterpart has been offered for probate by petitioner as decedent’s will.

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