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Court Rules on Will Contest


The decedent died on April 15, 1954 leaving a last will and testament that was admitted to probate on April 30 of the same year. He was survived by his wife and his brother. After about 11 and 1/2 years, the wife filed an appeal under the Decedent Estate Law that contested the fourth, fifth and sixth paragraph of the will. Her claim was that in gives more than 50% of the testator’s estate to a religious association.

A New York Probate Lawyer says that Section 17 of the Decedent Estate Law says ‘No person having a husband, wife, child, or descendant or parent, shall, by his or her last will and testament, devise or bequeath to any benevolent, charitable, literary, scientific, religious or missionary society, association, corporation or purpose, in trust or otherwise, more than one-half part of his or her estate, after the payment of his or her debts, and such devise or bequest shall be valid to the extent of one-half, and no more. The validity of a devise or bequest for more than such one-half may be contested only by a surviving husband, wife, child, descendant or parent…’

The decedent had made his wife, his brother and his friend and attorney executors of his estate. He gave to his wife $2,500 plus any earnings of the residue remainder of his estate, and she can get part of the principal up to $500 in a calendar year in case of illness. Upon his wife’s death or if his wife precedes him, his brother gets $1,000. $1,000 to be given to his churchin memory of my father and mother. To the church, he bequests $1,000 in memory of his wife. The rest of the residuary estate is given to the church.

The church as the residuary inheritor, contested that the widow’s claim should be stopped.Though that the wife had not waived her right to contest the excessive gift to the church explicitly. There is also no final settlement of the estate until the widow dies. The gift to the church is still undisputedly more than 50%, which is the limit.

It was the court’s opinion that the wife had the right to contest the excessive gift to the church. She can also raise that issue in a construction or accounting proceeding. The decision though, according to a Queens Estate Lawyer, must wait for the final settlement of the account when the court will already have all the information to make the determination. Even though the petition was filed at a late date, it is still valid as there is no limit for the time to file.

The widow’s death also does not terminate the contest for the validity of the bequest. The widow’s legal representative has the power to continue the proceedings in behalf of her estate. The contest begins when a preferred class, like the wife of descendant questions the validity of the will and since is personal then it will survive her death. With the widow filing her objection in a timely manner and the amount exceeding 50% of the estate after paying the debts and fees, a Queens Estate Administration Lawyer said the balance undistributed was given by the court to the heirs of the deceased as intestate property.

Some people may think that 11 years is a long time to wait to file an appeal against a provision of a will, but sometimes with the devastation of losing a love one you really need that time.

Losing a loved one, and navigating through the court system is difficult. Skilled legal counsel will know when petitions need to be filed and how to ensure that your rights are protected. Contact Stephen Bilkis and Associates for advice and a free consultation.

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