Articles Posted in Wills

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A military testamentary instrument is sometimes called a “military will.”  It is a last will and testament as described by federal statute 10 USCS § 1044d. It can be executed only by or on behalf of a person who is eligible for military legal assistance.  Like any other type of will, for a military testamentary instrument to valid, certain formalities must have been present at the time it was executed.  It must be executed by the testator in the presence of a military legal assistance counsel acting as presiding attorney and in the presence of two witnesses. Like a will, it takes effect upon the death of the testator.  It has the same effect as a will that was prepared and executed according to the laws of the state in which it is presented for probate.

In In re Johnson, the wife of decedent Johnson filed a petition for probate along with a military testamentary instrument purporting to be Johnson’s last will and testament. For an instrument to be admitted to probate, the general rule is that it is up to the proponent to prove that the document complies with the requirements of New York law. Under EPTL § 3-2.1(a), for a will to be valid, the requirements are:

  • The testator must have signed the instrument at its end
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In the case of In re Carney’s Will, the Surrogate’s Court considered whether it should allow a  party to reopen probate and contest a will a year after the will was admitted to probate letters testamentary issued to the executor.

New York requires that certain procedures must be followed to ensure that anyone with a potential interest in an estate is notified that a probate petition has been filed.  This means that all interested parties must be notified and given the opportunity to object to the will.  Interested parties typically include anyone who is named in the will as a beneficiary, anyone who was named as a beneficiary in a prior will, anyone who is an heir of the decedent under the rules of intestate succession as described in EPTL § 4-1.1 and EPTL § 4-1.2, and known creditors.  In addition to listing the names of interested parties on the citation, the petitioner must send each of them a  notice known as “citation.”  This requirement protects rights of those who have an interest in the decedent’s estate by ensuring that they are aware of the proceedings and giving them the opportunity to participate in the proceedings.  For example, if an interested party is aware of when the hearing will be held to admit a will to probate, he can show up and file a will contest if he questions the validity of the will.  However, anyone entitled to a citation can waive it.  On the other hand, if the appropriate parties are not properly notified of a probate proceeding, the Surrogate’s Court may determine that it must reopen probate.  This is the very issue in the case of In re Carney’s Will.

In Carney, E. Carney, the sole distributee of the decedent’s will, petitioned the Surrogate’s Court to re-open the decedent’s estate because he claimed that the waiver of citation that he signed was obtained fraudulently.  Three days after the decedent passed away, his funeral was held.  At the funeral, an attorney presented E. Carney with a waiver of citation and asked him to sign it.  E. Carney had the opportunity to read the waiver, and his mother advised him not to sign it.  After reading the waiver and being assured that by signing the waiver he would not be giving up any rights that he had in the estate, E. Carney signed the waiver.  The waiver was clear in stating that by signing it E. Carney would not receive notice of the probate proceedings.

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NY Slip Op 05266

The petitioner brought this case to enforce an oral agreement that would be void because of the statute of frauds. The petitioner’s grounds for this action are unconscionability of the statute of frauds. The court agrees that when promissory estoppel is satisfied it would be unconscionable and egregious to rely on the statute of frauds. Nonetheless, the court concludes that the petitioner can’t rely on this doctrine because the application of the statute of frauds would inflict injury on the petitioner and would be unfair. The court felt that while it would be unfair, it was not unconscionable.

The decedent owned an apartment building. His grandsons contend that before 2006, the had helped their grandfather with maintenance and snow removal on the property. Later, the grandfather asked the petitioners about taking over management duties of the property.

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In this case the Surrogate’s Court had to decide how to make sure that a testator’s overall testamentary plan remained intact where a portion of the will is determined to be invalid.

A. Dawe died on March 11, 2014. He was never married and never had children. He was survived by his two brothers, B. Dawe and R. Dawe. However, R. Dawe died in April 2014. The will was admitted to probate in September 2014, with B. Dawe being appointed as co-executor along with J. DeMuro, a friend of A. Dawe

In the will, the decedent made a specific gift to B. Dawe of his 13-year-old cat as well as $6000 to take are of her. The decedent was passionate about genealogy and spent a great deal of time researching Dawe family history. Decedent stated in his will that he is making no additional dispositions to his family. Instead, the decedent directed that the residue of the estate be transferred to the Dawe Family Trust that is to be used to continue and expand a genealogical website that the decedent created, and to create an archive of family genealogical data, photos and heirlooms. The will further provides that 21 years after the death of B. Dawe and his son, E. Dawe, the trust is to terminate and the remaining assets are to go to the Godfrey Memorial Library of Middletown, Connecticut.

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Ballasalmo died at the age of 95, leaving 2 daughters, Knuth and Ayers as her distributees. Petitioner, the decedent’s niece-in-law, submitted a document dated August 16, 2007, purportedly as Ballasalmo’s last will and testament. The will stated that Ballasalmo’s entire estate was to be divided between the petitioner and her husband. The decedent expressly disinherited her daughters. As to be expected, both daughters filed objections to the will. The bases for their objections include that the will was not properly executed, that the decdent lacked testamentary capacity, that it was a mistake, and that it was made under fraud and duress. In response, the petitioner moved for summary judgment dismissal of the decedent’s daughters’ objections.

Summary judgment dismissal is a strategy that allows the moving party to basically win the case without going through the time and expense of a trial. In order to win a summary judgment, the moving party must establish a prima facie entitlement to judgment. In this case, the petitioner mush show that the will was executed according to the requirements of New York law, and that the decedent had testamentary capacity at the time the will was executed. In support of her motion, the petitioner submitted a copy of the decedent’s will which includes an attestation clause as well as a contemporaneous self-proving affidavit. The petitioner also submitted the transcripts of the SCPA § 1404 examinations of the attorney draftsperson who also supervised the execution of the will and of two of the three attesting witnesses.

The evidence submitted established prima facie evidence that the will was properly executed and in statutory compliance.

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In this probate case the court considered the question as to whether it has the authority to consider extrinsic evidence in the determining how to interpret ambiguous terms of a last will and testament.

In her last will and testament, decedent Bruce made a provision as to the disposition of her a portion of her estate, the literal meaning of which would make the provision invalid. In her will, the decedent sought to exercise her power of appointment directing the trustees of two separate trusts, to distribute the assets in her residuary estate to the LB Foundation. A person who writes a will or creates a trust can give his or her beneficiaries a power of appointment, which enables the beneficiaries to direct where their share of the estate or trust goes at their death. In this case, a 1969 trust of which the decedent was a beneficiary gave the decedent the power to determine where her share of the trust would go upon her death. However, due to the wording of the language of the decedent’s will, the literal reading of decedent’s request is not valid because it exceeded the powers that were granted to her in the 1969 trust.

Upon considering summary judgment motions from both the petitioner and the respondent, the Surrogate’s Court noted that the testator’s intent is deciphered from a sympathetic reading of her last will and testament. Accordingly, the court must read the distribution plan that appears to be in the will in light of the testator’s intention. It is clear that the decedent’s intention was to provide property to the LB Foundation. It follows that it did not make sense for her to make a disposition of property that she knew would be invalid.

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In this case the Surrogate’s Court had to consider issues related to a contested guardianship under Mental Hygiene Law Article 81 and invalidating a property conveyance by the person who is the subject of the guardianship. Mental Hygiene Law Article 81 provides that upon petition, the Surrogate’s Court can appoint a guardian to handle the personal and/or financial affairs of a person who has been found to be incapacitated and would suffer harm in the absence of a guardianship.

Here, it was discovered that R. Nurse transferred 50% ownership in real property to his stepson, Dacres. R. Nurse’s biological children, M. Nurse and H. Nurse, stepped in and petitioned the court to be appointed co-guardians of R. Nurse. They also requested that the court void the transaction that conveyed R. Nurse’s property to Dacres. At the hearing, evidence was produced that confirmed that R. Nurse had dementia. Further, there was clear evidence that R. Nurse was incompetent at the time that he signed the deed and that he was subject to undue influence. Thus, the court voided the deed and granted the petition of M. Nurse and N. Nurse to be appointed co-guardians. Dacres appealed.

In ruling in favor of the petitioners, the court noted that the general rule is that it is assumed that a person is competent. The burden is on the petitioner to prove with clear evidence that the party is not competent. When it comes to voiding a property conveyance, the burden is on the petitioner to show that the party was not competent at the time of the conveyance.

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In this probate proceeding the court had to address an issue related to the construction of terms in the will related to the restriction on the disposition of real estate.

Decedent M. Bonanno died in 2002, leaving a last will and testament dated August 1, 1983. The Surrogate’s Court admitted the will to probate. The will provided that specific real estate that she owned in Queens go to her 4 children, and that it not be sold while her children remained single, and while any of them still lived in the property. It also stated that when the property was sold, the proceeds would be divided equally among her four children. Two of the decedent’s children petitioned the court for a construction of the provisions of the will related to the real property. They sought an order stating that each of 4 sibling owns a ¼ share of the property in fee simple without restriction. After filing the petition, the petitioners also filed a motion of summary judgment on the petition. The Surrogate’s Court denied the motion and the petitioners appealed.

In a summary judgment motion, the moving party has the burden of making a prima facie showing that based on the undisputed material facts, he or she is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. If the moving party is able to do this, then the burden shifts to the opposing party to rebut the moving party’s motion and show that there are material facts in dispute.

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In this case the Surrogate’s Court had to determine if a will should be invalidated due to improper execution, lack of testamentary capacity, and undue influence.  On October 19, 2015, the Surrogate’s Court entered the will of decedent L. West into probate. An objectant, P. West,  raised objections to the will, questioning its validity.  The respondent moved for summary judgment that the will was indeed valid. The court granted the respondent’s motion concluding that he had successfully proven that the will was duly executed.

When someone files a motion for summary judgment, he or she is asking the court to decide immediately that the based on the undisputed facts, he or she should win the case without it going to trial.  To prevail, the moving party has the burden of producing evidence that he or she is entitled to summary judgment.  If the moving party is able to do this, then the burden shifts to the non-moving party to rebut the moving party’s prima facie showing.

Here, the proponent of the will moved for summary judgment asking the court to dismiss the objectant’s claim that the will is was not properly executed. In support of his motion, the proponent of the will submitted the will’s attestation clause and the affidavit and testimony of the witnesses. Thus, the proponent proved that the will was duly executed.  The objectant did not successfully raise a triable issue of fact related to the will’s execution.

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