Articles Posted in Wills

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This is a Mandamus case by the People, on the relation of individual. From an order of the Appellate Division in the Second Judicial Department, reversing an order of the Kings Special Term, which granted relator’s motion for peremptory writ, plaintiff appeals.

The relator was duly elected the surrogate of the county of Queens at the general eléction in 1910, and his term of office as surrogate of said county had not expired in 1915.

By chapter 443 of the Laws of 1914, which took effect September 1, 1914, chapter 18 of the Code of Civil Procedure ‘in relation to surrogates and the practice and procedure in Surrogates’ Courts’ was revised, and section 2538 thereof now provides: ‘In any proceeding in which any controverted question of fact arises, of which any party has constitutional right of trial by jury, and in any proceeding for the probate of a will in which any controverted question of fact arises, the surrogate must make an order directing the trial by jury of such controverted question of fact, if any party appearing in such proceeding seasonably demands the same. The surrogate in such order must direct that such trial be had either before himself and a jury, or at a Trial Term of the Supreme Court to be held within the county, or in the county court of the county. * * *’

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Testatrix died on March 21, 1954, leaving surviving her son as her only distributee. Her will was admitted to probate June 2, 1956. The delay was caused by difficulty in locating testatrix’ son. The will nominated the attorney-draftsman as executor and trustee but he renounced and the niece of testatrix and a beneficiary under the will was appointed administratrix c. t. a.

The will gives to said niece household furniture and other items and the balance of an account in the South Brooklyn Savings Bank after payment therefrom of funeral and estate expenses. Paragraph ‘Fourth’ creates a trust of the residuary estate for the benefit of testatrix’ son. The article in question reads as follows: “FOURTH’ All the rest, residue, and remainder of my estate, both real and personal, of whatever nature, and wherever situate, I give, devise and bequeath in TRUST, for a period of five (5) years from the date of my death, to my son, said trust is for the purpose of providing necessary clothing and medical care for my son. At the end of the five year period, if my son, cannot be located, then I give, devise and bequeath the remainder of this trust to my aforementioned niece. If my son should die before the five year period has elapsed, I give, devise and bequeath the remainder of the trust to my aforementioned neice. As trustee of this trust I hereby appoint my lawyer with power to invade the trust for the above mentioned purposes, no bond being necessary for the faithful performance of his duties as trustee.’

This proceeding seeks a construction of paragraph ‘Fourth’ of the will to determine the intention of testatrix with respect to whether testatrix’ son is entitled to the remainder of the trust or whether the niece is entitled to the remainder.

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This action is in the nature of quo warranto, brought by the attorney general upon his own information, pursuant to section 1948 of the Code of Civil Procedure. The action is primarily against certain persons alleged to have usurped and entered into the office of city magistrates in the boroughs constituting the Second division in the city of New York. Pursuant to section 1954 of the Code, the persons who claim to have been elected to said offices, and rightfully entitled thereto, are also made defendants.

The complaint proceeds upon the theory that under section 1392 of the Revised Charter of New York City, enacted in 1901, there was a valid election in the fall of that year, at which certain persons were elected to the office of city magistrates in the boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens, and Richmond, who are prevented from discharging the duties thereof and receiving the emoluments belonging thereto by the unlawful usurpation of said office by the defendants above named. Said defendants, by their answer, challenge the constitutional validity of said charter provisions, and allege their own legal incumbency of said office pursuant to legal appointments made prior to said election. To this answer the plaintiffs interposed a demurrer on the ground that it is insufficient in law.

For the purposes of administration of criminal justice, the greater city of New York, under its original charter, enacted in 1897, was divided into two divisions. In the first division were the boroughs of Manhattan and the Bronx; in the second the boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens, and Richmond. Section 1390. When said charter went into effect, the office of city magistrate was in existence in the former city of New York, having been established by chapter 601 of the Laws of 1895. Section 1392 of said charter provided that the city magistrates in office when it took effect should continue to hold their office until the expiration of their respective terms, and should be known as the city magistrates of the First division; that their successors should be appointed in the same manner, and have the same powers and duties, as provided by said chapter 601, Laws 1895. The act just referred to provided that such magistrates should be appointed by the mayor for terms of 10 years. On account of the different conditions which prevailed in the boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens, and Richmond, the charter provisions relating to the office of city magistrate in these boroughs were more elaborate than those above summarized.

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In an action, inter alia, to set aside a conveyance of certain real property, the defendant appeals, as limited by his brief, from so much of an order of the Supreme Court, Kings County as granted the plaintiffs’ cross motion to disqualify the law firm from representing him in the action.

The court ordered that the order is reversed insofar as appealed from, on the law, with costs, and the cross motion is denied.

The defendant correctly contends that the Supreme Court erred in disqualifying the law firm from representing him in this action. The disqualification was based on an alleged conflict of interest arising from the law firm’s previous representation of the deceased aunt of the plaintiff in a real property transaction with the defendant.

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In this case the Supreme Court considered whether a decedent’s intention was to make a testamentary gift or if the language was actually precatory. If the language was precatory, it is optional, and the executors are not required to enforce it. On the other hand, if the language was mandatory, then the executors are required to enforce it.

Sparacio, a well-known attorney and professor of law, died on June 5, 1973. He left a handwritten will dated April 22, 1970. In it he named all three of his adult children as executors of his will and as residuary legatees. While the will was a handwritten one, it was not a holographic will. A holographic will is one that is handwritten and signed by the testator, but not witnessed. Sparacio dictated the will to one of his daughters who wrote it out in longhand. His other daughter was present.

In the will he left his daughter M. Sparacio his house and its decorative contents. The will also stated that it is his “wish and desire” that the other daughter, E. Maroshick, share in the contents of the house. Because the language as to how the contents of the house was to be distributed was unclear and the daughters were not able to settle the matter amicably, the decedent’s son petitioned the Surrogate’s Court for a construction. The Surrogate’s Court ordered the parties to submit a list of the “decorative contents” and for them to figure out a way to divide the property. The court further ordered that if they could not agree, then it would appoint a referee to supervise the division of the property. M. Sparacio appealed the Surrogate’s Court decision.

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This is a case where the State Tax Commission appealed from the order of Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Second Department which order affirmed an order of the Surrogate which on appeal affirmed a pro forma taxing order fixing and assessing the estate tax pursuant to article 10-C of the Tax Law, upon the estate of a decedent.

The decedent died a resident of the State of New York, leaving a will which was admitted to probate, letters testamentary having been issued to three (3) executors. An estate tax appraiser was appointed pursuant to provisions of section 249-m et seq. of the Tax Law who made appraisal and filed report with the Surrogate of Kings County. The report showed that decedent owned stocks, bonds and other property valued at more than $184,000 which constituted his entire estate. The decedent also carried life insurance, proceeds of which in the sum of $372,385.49 were payable to designated beneficiaries other than executors.

Debts and administration expenses amounted to more than $336,000. Charitable, public and similar gifts and bequests amounted to 10,000. Exemptions pursuant to section 249-q of the Tax Law were allowed in the sum of $100,000. The pro forma taxing order provided for a total tax of $726.58. The ground of appeal from such taxing order was that portion of debts of estate had been deducted from proceeds of insurance policies payable to beneficiaries other than executors and that such deduction was erroneous.

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In this proceeding to settle an intermediate account of bank as trustee of two trusts, the appeals are from two decrees of the Surrogate’s Court, Kings County. The trustee appeals from so much of the first decree as (1) adjudged that the trustee was guilty of gross neglect with respect to one of the trusts, the one established for the benefit of the testator’s two daughters, in failing to make the trust productive; (2) surcharged the trustee $23,298.27; (3) adjudged that a certain 1946 consent and release (referred to in the decree as made in ‘1947’) executed by the daughters was ineffective to bind them with respect to the conduct of the trustee subsequent to the date thereof; and (4) adjudged that the clause in a certain probate compromise agreement of 1926 had no legal force and effect upon the daughters, who in 1926 were infants.

The trustee, a remainderman and the executor of the estate of another remainderman appeal from so much of the second decree as (1) authorized and directed the trustee to invade the principal of the daughters’ trust by transferring it equally to the daughters and (2) terminated that trust. The trustee also appeals from the further portion of this decree which ‘confirms’ the $23,298.07 surcharge; said remainderman and executor of a remainderman’s estate also appeal from so much of this decree as failed to deny the relief requested in a petition by one of the daughters, and the daughters cross-appealed from another portion of this decree.

The decree entered October 27, 1972, affirmed insofar as appealed from by the trustee, without costs, on the opinions of the Surrogate dated July 9, 1969 and May 25, 1972. Decree entered July 30, 1973, reversed insofar as appealed from by appellants other than the daughters, on the law, and proceeding remitted to the Surrogate’s Court, Kings County, for a hearing on the issues presented by the petition and the answers thereto, limited to a determination as to (1) whether there exists a need to authorize or direct invasion of the corpus of the daughters’ trust and (2) whether the transfer to the shares of the stock of the corporation might be financially beneficial to them, thus justifying termination of the trust, with costs to abide the event. The appeals by said appellants from this decree presented no questions of fact.

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The decedent, Ms. DD, died on February 24, 2008, at the age of 92, leaving a duly executed will dated May 14, 1985. At the time of the decedent’s death, all legatees mentioned in the will had predeceased her, and any right to her estate under the will had passed to two nephews who lived in Nevada, and five grandnieces and grandnephews.

The decedent lived alone in her house in Bayside, Queens until December 2007 (hereinafter the Bayside house). The respondent, Ms. BB, lived in a nearby house on the same street. The parties stipulated that, as of 2007, Ms. BB had performed “many recurring household tasks” for the decedent, “including cooking, shopping, transportation, and bathing; and Ms. BB had obtained and kept a key to Ms. DD’s house where she frequently slept overnight.” Another neighbor also had a key and would also check in on the decedent once a day.

In December 2007 the decedent was hospitalized with a dislocated shoulder, and was discharged on January 4, 2008, to a rehabilitation facility. On or about January 9, 2008, while she was at the rehabilitation facility, the decedent consulted with an attorney, who was asked by Ms. BB to meet the decedent at the facility. The attorney had not previously dealt with either the decedent or Ms. BB. According to the attorney, the decedent told him that she wanted to give her house to Ms. BB, and if Ms. BB predeceased her, to Ms. BB’s daughter. The attorney informed the decedent that there were three ways to accomplish that end: deeding the property to Ms. BB, changing her will, or setting up a trust. The decedent said that she preferred to set up a trust, because she would retain ownership of her house and, upon her death, Ms. BB would avoid probate costs. The attorney asked the decedent about family, and she informed him that her husband died in 1984, she had no children, and she had very little contact with her family.

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Application having been made to this Court by the trustees herein for a construction of the Will of Mrs. ALF, and for instructions regarding the trust for Mrs. VR, and it appearing that Mrs. ALF died a resident of Millbrook, Dutchess County, New York, on December 28, 1939, and that her Will was duly admitted to probate in this Court on January 15, 1940, and that LLE Inc. and the Bank of New York are duly acting under letters of trusteeship issued by this Court, and it further appearing that Mrs. VR, the primary income beneficiary of one of the trusts under article Sixth of the Will of Mrs. ALF, died on May 21, 1956, and that by reason of her death that trust is terminated, and it appearing that Louis Lee Stanton and the said Bank of New York as trustees, have submitted to the Court an account of their proceedings in respect to said trust so terminated, and it further appearing that a citation was issued to all the parties interested in this proceeding and that ABB, Esq., attorney and counselor at law of Beacon, New York, was designated to receive a copy of said citation on behalf of Mr. JAV, an infant under the age of 14 years, and the matter having come on to be heard by this Court on December 13, 1956, and no one having appeared but petitioners through their attorneys, CCC, Esqs., of 15 Broad Street, New York 5, New York, with WWW, Esq., of counsel, and the Court having appointed ABB, Esq., as Special Guardian for the infant, Mr. JAV, and after receiving a copy of the Special Guardian’s Report, and a Memorandum of Law submitted by the Special Guardian on behalf of his ward, and after hearing the respective attorneys and after due deliberation thereon, the Court finds and decides as follows:

It appears that Article Sixth of the Last Will and Testament of Mrs. ALF states as follows:

‘Sixth: To my Trustees hereinafter named I give and bequeath In Trust the sum of Twenty-five thousand Dollars ($25,000) in respect to each of my grandchildren (whether heretofore or hereafter born) who shall be living at the time of my death to hold one such sum of Twenty-five thousand Dollars ($25,000) for the benefit of each of my said grandchildren me surviving, and In Further Trust to invest and from time to time to reinvest each such trust fund of Twenty-five thousand Dollars ($25,000) and collect the income therefrom and during the minority of the grandchild for whom such trust fund is held to accumulate said income and, when such grandchild shall have attained the age of twenty one years, to pay the accumulated income to such grandchild and in Further Trust after each such grandchild shall have attained the age of twenty-one years to pay to such grandchild the whole net income of said trust fund. I direct that, when each such grandchild shall have attained the age of twenty one years, my Trustees pay over to him or her Ten thousand Dollars ($10,000) of the principal of said trust fund and, when he or she shall have attained the age of twenty five years, pay over to him or her the balance of the principal of said trust fund then remaining in Trust, whereupon the trust for the benefit of such grandchild shall cease and determine. In case any grandchild who shall survive me shall die before he or she shall have attained the age of twenty-five years, upon his or her death I give and bequeath the principal of said trust fund then held in trust and the accumulations of income, if any to such person or persons, and in such portions or shares as such grandchild by his or her last will and testament, duly admitted to probate and not otherwise, shall appoint, or in default of such appointment to the issue of such grandchild him or her surviving in equal shares per stirpes, or in default of any such issue then to my issue then surviving in equal shares per stirpes.’

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The issue before the Surrogate’s Court is whether a testator properly revoked a prior will.

As long as he (or she) is not mentally incapacitated, a testator has the right to revoke a will at any time. Under New York EPTL § 3-4.1, there are 3 ways to revoke a will.  1.  The testator can intentionally, physical destroy the will by ripping it up, burning it, cutting, shredding it, or in some other way destroying it. If the testator instructs another person to destroy the will, then that would serve as a revocation as well.  2.  The testator can write and execute a new will. Doing so would automatically revoke a prior will and codicils, if any. To make his intentions absolutely clear, in the new will the testator can include a clause stating that the new will revokes any prior wills and codicils.  Executed under the proper circumstances, a holographic or nuncupative will would also revoke a prior will. 3.  The testator can revoke a will by creating a document (other than a new will) indicating his intention to revoke his will.

In In re Grant, decedent Grant was a resident of Kings County, New York, but spent time in the Barbados and had real property in the Barbados.  He also had personal property in New York.   In 1958 the decedent executed a will in New York in which he left his real property in Barbados to two of his sisters.  He left his residuary estate which consisted of personal property in New York, to one of his brothers. He had another sister and another brother who did not receive anything under the 1958 will.

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