In this case the court must determine whether an objectant to probating a will has standing to do so. Under New York law, only those with an interest in the proceeding have the legal right to file an objection.
The decedent, Potenza, died on August 8, 1956. She was survived by a number of brothers and sisters as well as an alleged surviving husband, Alessandrello. Although the decedent and Alessandrello were married on August 8, 1953, Potenza questioned the validity of the marriage because she believed that the Alessandrello was previously married in Italy and that he never divorced his previous wife. Potenza left a will dated November 9, 1955, in which she left nothing to Alessandrello. She stated the reason for not leaving him anything was because of her belief that his marriage to his first wife was not legally terminated. The will was submitted for probate, and Alessandrello filed an objection. Alessandrello’s objections to the will are based on lack of testamentary capacity, fraud, duress and undue influence. Further, Alessandrello asserts that he has an interest in the estate as the spouse of the deceased.
The proponent of the will filed a motion to dismiss Alessandrello’s objections on the ground that he lacked status to object to the will. According to New York law, in order to object to a will, you must have status or standing to do so. This means that the objectant must have a pecuniary interest in the proceeding. Generally, standing is limited to distributees or beneficiaries. Distributees, also referred to as “heirs at law,” are those who would receive less under the contested will than they would receive if there were no will. Beneficiaries who have standing are beneficiaries under the contested will who would receive less under the contested will than they would under a prior will. If Alessandrello was legally married to Potenza at the time of her death, then he would have status. Otherwise, he would not.
In addition to filing a motion to dismiss Alessandrello’s objections, the proponent filed a motion seeking to examine Alessandrello about his prior marriage. The proponent seeks to elicit evidence related to whether Alessandrello did indeed abandon a wife in Italy which would be evidence of whether he was ever legally married to the decedent. If he was never legally married to the decedent, then he would not have status to object to the will. Alessandrello objected to the examination asserting that a hearing on a motion to dismiss is not the proper place for such an examination. The court concluded that although an examination before trial is typically not appropriate, an examination before trial may be had on the issue of status, as status is generally determined by the Surrogate’s Court in preliminary hearings. Thus, the proponent’s motion to examine the objectant is granted.