Articles Posted in Probate & Estate Litigation

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The issue before the Surrogate’s Court is whether a copy of a subsequent will is sufficient to revoke a prior will and prevent it from being probated.

This matter is related to probating a will dated May 27, 1997, which is purported to be the last will and testament of decedent Harper. The petitioners are the executors named in the will, C. Harper and M. Harper. C. Harper is the decedent’s nephew, while M. Harper is his sister. The decedent has several distributees including his surviving spouse and children.

The will directs that the decedent’s personal property and real estate should be divided equally among his nephews, his sister, his 3 children. He left his surviving spouse the remainder of his estate. His will includes language that specifically disinherits any children born after execution of the document or any adopted children. The decedent’s surviving spouse and children filed objections to the will.

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In this case the Surrogate’s Court considers the whether to grant a petition for guardianship of a person who suffers from intellectual and physical disabilities and is unable to care for herself.

Petitioner Laut appeals the denial of a petition she filed under SCPA Article 17-A for guardianship of her disabled sister. The sister has suffered from severe, permanent disabilities all her life. She suffers from cerebral palsy and mental retardation and requires 24-hour care. She is unable to feed herself, is non-ambulatory, and is non-verbal. Using the Bayley scale of infant and toddler development, the sister has been determined to have a developmental equivalent of a 4-month-old.

The petitioner’s parents had cared for her sister her entire life. However, they both died in 2014. While the petitioner wanted to care for her sister after their parents’ deaths, she stated that she was unable to fully do so because she did not have legal guardianship over her sister. For example, she was not able to arrange for a lease for the sister’s apartment and she was not able to maintain the sister’s supplemental nutritional program. In denying her petition for guardianship, the Surrogate’s Court stated that a hearing pursuant to Mental Hygiene Law 81 was more appropriate.

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In this case the Surrogate’s Court considered the issue as to whether to entertain an objection to probate of a will 30 years after it was originally admitted to probate.

This case relates to the probate proceeding of the will of decedent Schnall. Schnall executed the will in 1976. She died in 1980. Bostwick, Schnall’s daughter, consented to probate. The will was admitted to probate in a decree dated November 13, 1980. In 2009, nearly 30 years later, one of the decedent’s grandchildren filed a motion to vacate the probate decree. The basis of the motion was that several distributees of the decedent had not been named in the probate petition. In 2010 the Surrogate’s Court granted the motion, finding in instances where jurisdiction was never obtained over a necessary party, the decree admitting the will to probate is void as to that party.

Nechin-Pescow filed an amended probate petition in 2013 and filed a second amended probate petition ion 2014. Bostwick objected to probate, arguing undue influence and a lack of testamentary capacity. Two grandchildren of Schnall, Beesmer and Elchoness, filed motions for summary judgment dismissing Bostwick’s objections. The Surrogate’s Court denied the motion.

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The respondent MJP holdings moves for an order dismissing the petition for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, and because a prior action is pending for the same issue in a different court.

Despite the fact that the proceeding was heard on 6/1/18, the history of this case goes back 40 years, starting with the death of the decedent’s grandmother CP. That litigation was only settled in 2017. Her 2 children have passed away. The estate of one child, J, is in litigation. The case with the other child, M, is being litigated as well.

The parties involved here are the petitioner, who is the executor of the decedent’s estate, the grandchild of the decedent, and daughter’s husband, and MJD Holdings.

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A New York Probate Lawyer said that, in this 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 the decedent did not subscribe her name in the presence of the witness, 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.

Accordingly, 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. The objections are sustained and probate is denied. Proceed accordingly. As an incident to a trustee’s final accounting, the Court is requested to fix an attorney’s fee pursuant to section 231-a, Surrogate’s Court Act payable out of the share of the issue of a deceased remainder man.

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In this case, the Surrogate’s Court was asked by two of the decedent’s creditors to revoke the estate administrator’s letters of administration because in petitioning the court for letters of administrator, the petitioner mispresented his status as a distributee of the decedent’s estate.

The decedent, J. Young, was a successful songwriter.  He died in 1939 intestate.  The term “intestate” means that Young died without having executed a valid will.  He was survived by his spouse and his father. Under New York’s intestacy laws, they were his only distributees. In May 1939, Young’s wife was appointed administrator of his estate. She died in November 1973, leaving a properly executed will that named co-executors.

In September 2009, the grandnephew of the decedent, N. Young, petitioned the court for letters of administration de bonis non with respect to the decedent’s estate. Pursuant to  Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act § 1007 (link to: https://estatelawyer.1800nynylaw.com/surrogates-court-procedure-act-1007-administration-de-bonis-non.html) , letters of administration de bonis non are letters that allow for the administration of assets that remain in an estate in situations where the  original executor or previous administrator is unable to do so.  The petition filed by the grandnephew, the respondent in this case, was supported by waivers and consents of twenty-one of the distributees identified.  A citation was issued to one alleged distributee who did not appear on the return date. According to his petition, the value of the assets in need of administration was $9,000.00.

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A New York Probate Lawyer said that, before the court is the motion of the nominated successor co-trustee of the trusts created under Paragraphs Second, Third and Sixth of the will of the decedent. Movant seeks summary judgment pursuant to CPLR 3213 granting his petition for appointment as successor co-trustee pursuant to SCPA 1502. In the alternative, movant asks the court to issue an order pursuant to CPLR 3126 striking the objections to his appointment which were filed by a trust beneficiary, for her failure to provide discovery.

The decedent died on February 14, 2008, survived by his wife, hereinafter, “the objectant”, his son, and his daughter. Decedent left a will dated October 27, 2004, as amended by codicil dated October 12, 2006. The will and codicil were admitted to probate by this court on April 4, 2008. In Paragraph Second of the will, decedent established a credit shelter trust for the benefit of the objectant. In Paragraph Third of the will, decedent established a generation-skipping trust for the benefit of the objectant. In Paragraph Sixth of the will, decedent created a residuary trust for the benefit of the objectant. In connection with each of the three trusts, letters of trusteeship were issued by this court on April 4, 2008, to the three nominated trustees and the objectant.

One trustee submitted his written resignation as trustee on February 2, 2010. The nominated successor trustee, executed a renunciation on February 11, 2010. On May 13, 2010, the trustee filed a petition with this court for permission to resign and for the appointment of hereinafter, “movant”, the next successor trustee nominated by the decedent in his will.

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In 1982, the decedent, I. Berk, executed a will naming his sons, J. Berk and H. Berk, as the co-executors of his estate. The will also left his entire estate to his sons and his grandchildren. I. Berk was a successful businessman with substantial assets. Over time I. Berk’s physical and mental health began to deteriorate. Eventually he had to use a wheelchair to get around, suffered memory loss, and was often confused.

In 1997 the petitioner, H. Wang, who was a 40-year-old recent immigrant from China, began to work as the decedent’s live-in caretaker. Eventually, the decedent, became totally dependent on the petitioner, who was constantly with him. Friends of the decedent reported that the petitioner treated the decedent poorly, frequently screaming and shoving him, causing him to become tearful. A friend of the decedent alleged that the decedent told him that he was afraid of the petitioner.

In April 2005 the decedent was diagnosed with dementia by a physician who examined him in connection with a contemplated guardianship proceeding. That physician stated that the decedent was no longer capable of caring for himself or managing his own affairs. Despite this, on June 17, 2005, the petitioner and the decedent got married in the New York City Clerk’s Office. At the time the petitioner was 47 years old and the decedent was 99 years. Neither the petitioner nor the decedent ever told the decedent’s friends, family members, or associates about the wedding. In addition, according to a friend who saw the decedent every day, the decedent and the petitioner never showed affection towards each other and the decedent never wore a wedding band. The decedent’s sons learned of the wedding after the decedent died in 2006, as they were riding in a car to the funeral home with the petitioner. At that time the petitioner told them that she had married the decedent.

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In this case the Surrogate’s Court had to determine whether to probate a carbon copy of a will where the original was purported inadvertently lost or destroyed.

According to the two witnesses, the decedent, L. Levinsohn, executed a will on or about February 27, 1948. They testified that all legal requirements were met. In addition, they testified that at the time Levinsohn executed the will, the decedent was of sound mind and memory and that he was not under duress.

One of the two witnesses was an attorney and was also the person who drafted the will. He testified that immediately after the will was executed, he gave it to the decedent’s son for safekeeping. This witness also testified that he made a carbon copy of the original will which he conformed and kept in his files. The witness submitted the carbon copy for probate.

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In this case the Surrogate’s Court considered whether certain language in a will is a mandatory condition of a beneficiary’s receiving a bequest or is merely precatory language.

In her will, decedent Moore left her residuary estate to a beneficiary who was a resident of Poland. The language of the bequest included that the residuary estate was to be the beneficiary’s “to be hers absolutely and forever.” Additional language stated that the beneficiary, who was a minor at the time of Moore’s death, was to come to New York City to receive the payment. The question for the court was whether the executor was required to make the payment to the beneficiary in New York City, or if the executor could send the payment to the beneficiary in Poland.

The court concluded that the provision stating that the executor is to make the payment in New York City was not a mandatory, but precatory language. Language in a will that surrounds a bequest can be mandatory or precatory. If the language is mandatory, an imperative duty is imposed, meaning that it is a condition of receiving the bequest and the court can enforce the provision. If the language is precatory, then no imperative duty is imposed. Performance is up to the discretion of the beneficiary. In other words, the obligation is moral not legal. The court cannot order the beneficiary to perform as a condition for receiving the bequest. Typically, precatory language includes “wish,” “want,” “recommend,” or “desire.”

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