Published on:

Court Rules on Excessive Gifts to Charity


The decedent executed a will that left all her estate after taxes and fees to a Cemetery Association, a Fire Company, The American Cancer Society, a health association, and a society for the protection of homeless and dependent children. This constituted more than half of her estate.

If in case the will fails, a New York Probate Lawyer said that there will be twenty-nine first cousins who will be the beneficiaries. Three of these first cousins objected to the bequest to the charities. They cited law regarding the will contest for excessive bequests to charities. If their petition is granted any excess to half of the estate will be distributed to the cousins. The executors and the five charities appealed to dismiss the objection. The cousins objecting appeared before the court one with his separate counsel and the other two shared the same attorney.

To understand the Estates, Powers and Trusts Law regarding the excessive bequest to charity, one needs to determine first who can contest. The rule on contesting an excessive bequest to charity is that the person who is appealing against stands to gain pecuniary with a successful contest and that the bequest to charity is more than half of the estate. The law further supports it with the definition as to who these persons.

Before September 1930, it could have been any relative. It was reduced by a revision in the law to linear descendants, wife, husband or parent. There has already been previous cases where in even the brothers or sisters, niece or nephew of a testator were not considered as people who could contest the will under the excessive bequest to charity. From 1860 to 1930, it would have been a proper objection made by a first cousin. The new statute that took effect in September 1, 1967 for the Estates, Powers and Trusts Law was taken from a revision in the Decedent Estate Law. It was made so that both provision worked side by side. Again, this limited the people who can contest a will through the excessive bequest to charity to a surviving parent, husband or wife, child or descendant.

The problem of the objection is not based on the rule for excessive charity but with the definition as to who can contest a will. The descendant is defined as sharing a common ancestor, but instead of the testator, the cousins who are objecting want it to be changed to the grandparent of the testator. Manhattan Probate Lawyers said that the court has determined and emphasized that the descendant is one who has a lineal connection with the testator. It can also be those who were legally adopted and no one else.

The cousins also objected that they should still be allowed to object as an extension of the members because there is no surviving linear descendant. The courts say the extension of members still does not revert to the old law before 1930 but to people who are authorized to object like a representative. According to a Queens Probate Lawyer, the court found that the three cousins did not have the right to object to the donation to the charities.

When you are unclear as to what the law allows and prohibits particularly when it comes to last wills and testaments speak with Stephen Bilkis and Associates. We handle cases from New York and Long Island. Call us at 1-800 NY-NY-LAW for a free consultation.

Contact Information