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Court Determines Jurisdiction Question with French Will and Trust


An American citizen who was a successful business man in New York got married to a French woman and thereafter bought a home in France where he lived together with his wife and daughter. Every now and then, he comes back to New York to look after some concerns about the business that he sold particularly because the said payment has not been fully paid. Whenever he was in New York, he would stay from time to time in a Flushing apartment which was especially provided to him by the corporation that he previously owned before selling it to his business partner.

It was also in New York that he executed a will in 1970 covering his estate and stated that the said will must be probated in the courts of New York when the proper time comes. Embodied in the will are provisions ceding to his wife all his personal properties and personal effects as well as a weekly allowance. The will also provided for an allowance to his brother which would come from the residuary trust. The daughter of the testator was also provided in the will and she was supposed to receive the income from a trust fund up to the time that she reaches the age of 35. He named as executor his long-time business partner for whom he sold his entire business interest in New York.

A New York Probate Lawyer said a few weeks before the death of the testator in 1972, he also executed before a French notary public, a deed of donation. Said deed of donation is in the form of inter vivos donation which will take effect upon the death of the donor. In the said Deed of Donation, he is leaving the entire estate administration and ownership to this wife subject to the condition that if there be children of the donor at the time of his death, then the wife as donee shall determine the right amount to be given to said children subject to the rules of the applicable law when that time comes.

When the testator died a few weeks after the Deed of donation was executed, he left money in the form of cash and securities in a Swiss Bank, real properties in France, and almost a thousand dollars in bank deposits in New York plus the balance that has to be paid to him by his business partner for the sale of the company that he started in New York. Westchester Conty Probate Lawyers said the business partner who was also made the executor of the will that was earlier executed started the proceedings for the probate of the will of the testator in New York County. The widow opposed the said institution of the proceedings for the settlement of the properties of the decedent alleging that the testator though an American citizen is already domiciled in France and as such, French court and law should be applied.

The Surrogate court of New York ruled in favour of the wife declaring that the allegations of the wife have merit. It argued further that even though the decedent continuously used New York as his address, there was no clear indication that he really intended to use the same as his domicile. Moreover, New York City Probate Lawyers said the court also opined that the very small bank account left by the testator in a New York bank is insubstantial to be considered as enough for it to assume jurisdiction and since there is also an estate litigation pending in a French court regarding the same properties left by the decedent, the Surrogate court deemed it proper that the decision be made by the said French court instead.

Upon appeal, and taking into consideration all the facts presented regarding the actions made by the decedent prior to his death, the higher court declared that indeed the decedent, although still an American citizen, nevertheless by his acts adopted France as his place of domicile. This is supported by the fact that he no longer own any properties in New York save for a small bank account that is worth just a few hundred dollars. Therefore, the French courts have jurisdiction to rule on the will contest initiated by the assigned executor of the decedent.

New York Estate Lawyers are experts in matters involving property settlement of deceased persons. Since the formulation and execution of a will is an important act that must be made according to the formalities required by law, it is important to consult an expert New York Probate Lawyer to assist in its formulation and even revision during the lifetime of the testator. Stephen Bilkins and Associates are experts in the field of property settlement involving deceased persons and they can provide the legal assistance in a very effective manner.

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