Alexander Singer filed an appeal with the court with regard to him violating the terrorem clauses of his father’s will. When his father, Rabbi Joseph Singer, died, his last will and testament was dated April 15, 2003. The will put his daughter, Vivian Singer, as the executor of the will. With a trust agreement bulk of his personal property, his home in Brooklyn and $200,000 was to be given to his daughter. The will stated that the bequest was for his daughter’s unusual dedication, and he realizes that his daughter gave her life to take care of him. To his son, he gives $15,000 and the remainder of the estate will be divided between his son and his daughter equally.
Rabbi Singer’s will have two terrorem clauses. The first, as a New York Probate Lawyer said is like any standard ‘no contest’ clause. “If any beneficiary shall, in any manner, directly or indirectly, contest, object to or oppose, or attempt to contest, object to or oppose, the probate of or validity of this Will or the revocable trust agreement created by me, or any part of my estate plan or any gifts made by me, or any of the provisions of this Will or of the revocable trust agreement created by me, in any court or commence or prosecute any legal proceeding of any kind in any court to set aside this Will or the revocable trust agreement created by me or any part of my estate plan or any gifts made by me, then in that event, such beneficiary, and all of such beneficiary’s issue, shall forfeit and cease to have any right or interest whatsoever under this Will or under the revocable trust agreement created by me, or in any portion of my estate, and, in such event, I hereby direct that my estate and the trust estate under such revocable trust agreement shall be disposed of in all respects as if such beneficiary had predeceased me without issue.”
The second one was specifically for his son Alexander. This condition expressly states that his son should not contest any part of the will, the trust agreement, any of the estate plans and gifts made by Rabbi Singer. It further says that his son should not take his daughter, Vivian, to a Bet Din. A Bet Din according to a Queens Probate Lawyers is a religious court. If his son resorts to any of these proceedings, he will lose his right to any part of the estate, either through the will or the revocable trust agreement.
March 25, 2004, Vivian submitted the will for probate. The following day Alexander filed a notice of discovery and inspection. He asked for various documents and the deposition of certain witnesses, including Rabbi Singer’s attorney, Joseph Katz. Vivian’s lawyer wrote to Alexander stating that Mr. Katz was not a proper witness for the discovery and inspection procedure. Nassau County Probate Lawyers got the information that the lawyer even stated that he will be contesting the will under the terrorem clause and will forfeit any inheritance due to him. Alexander’s attorney disagreed and deposed Mr. Katz.
In Mr. Katz’s testimony, he said that Rabbi Singer was capable and that Vivian did not influence the will. He also stated that even in the older will that was drafted the ‘no contest’ clause was already included to make sure Alexander does not contest the estate plan.
The will was submitted to probate with no contest. Vivian then filed a case to declare that Alexander violated the terrorem clauses of the will. In the surrogate court, it was found that he did. Hence, the appeal to reverse that ruling. In the examination of the Appellate Court, they stated that the examination of the witness or documents does not construe a contest. This is for an informed decision, whether they have a stand to contest the procedure or not. The court also said the discovery and inspection is not exclusive to estate, and the will does not state that the deposition of Rabbi Singer’s lawyer automatically forfeits the inheritance.
The terrorem clauses in this case did not prohibit inquiry just the contest of the will or any part of it. The court reversed the decision of the surrogate court and granted that Alexander get his share.
There are often animosities that exist between siblings. In estate cases any old issues make the contest personal. This is where levelheaded legal counsel is needed. They will be the ones to make sure the decisions made are not just emotional but correct and well founded.
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