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Court Discusses Domestic Relations Law and Family Court Act


The Facts of the Case:

The estate of decedent-one is the legal entity controlling the assets and obligations of decedent-two. No Last Will and Testament of decedent-two has ever been presented for probate nor read by plaintiffs, if one exists.

Meanwhile, decedent-two was married with wife-one and they had two children, child-one and child-two. Their decree of divorce was issued on 6 January 1997. Together they entered into a Stipulation of Settlement dated 19 September 1996 which was incorporated but not merged into the Judgment of Divorce. On or about 11 March 2000, decedent-two married the defendant, wife-two. Thereafter, a New York Probate Lawyer said child-two resided with decedent-one and wife-two in Suffolk County until the decedent’s death on 20 December 2008. Allegedly, sometime in August 2007, child-one was forced out of the residence by wife-two; that at the time of decedent-two’s death, he was suffering from lung cancer, metastatic stage four; and that wife-two administered him a lethal overdose of morphine which hastened his death.

At the time of decedent-two’s death, he was to be possessed a life insurance policy insuring his life, as required the Judgment of Divorce, which life insurance policy he was to maintain with a minimum death benefit of $100,000.00 for the benefit of the infant issue for so long as the children shall be unemancipated. Thus, a Long Island Probate Lawyer said an insurance policy was obtained through a corporation, an outsourced human resource provider of decedent-two’s employer.

Subsequently, an action was commenced by the children of decedent-two, as plaintiffs, against wife-two (herein referred to as “defendant” or “wife-two”) and the insurance company (herein referred to as the “insurance company”), as defendants. It is claimed that although the Judgment of Divorce provided that the plaintiffs be named as beneficiary of the life insurance policy, wife-two was named instead. First, plaintiffs claim that the decedent was contractually obligated to provide the aforementioned life insurance policy as provided by the Judgment of Divorce and that the defendant has become unjustly enriched by failing to turn over the death benefit to the plaintiffs who seek a constructive trust for the benefit of the plaintiffs on their father’s life insurance policy; Second, plaintiffs seek judgment declaring that they are the sole owners and beneficiaries of the insurance policy issued, that wife-two has no legal interest in and to the insurance policy or its death benefit due to her fraudulent actions and undue influence; Third, the plaintiffs allege that wife-two has breached her promise to the decedent to act in the best interests of the plaintiffs and upon their reaching majority, placing the insurance proceeds in plaintiffs names, for which the plaintiffs therefore seek judgment declaring that the plaintiffs are the sole owners of said policy; Fourth, that on or about 20 December 2008, in order to end her emotional suffering, wife-two willfully and intentionally caused decedent-two to ingest a lethal dose of morphine which was five to seven times the amount then prescribed by the decedent’s physician for a single dose, thus, intentionally causing decedent-two’s death and depriving the plaintiffs of his love and affection; and Fifth, that wife-two intentionally caused the death of decedent-two for which the plaintiffs seek a judgment declaring that wife-two, without legal justification, caused the premature death of decedent, thus, negating any right she may have to any benefit from his death as either beneficiary of any life insurance policy, mutual fund or 401 K, or any such jointly held accounts or assets of which the assets of decedent-two may have passed at his death or as a beneficiary or distributee of the estate assets and that all such assets be declared assets of the estate of decedent-two to which wife-two has not valid claim. The plaintiffs now seek summary judgment on their first, second and third causes of action, but seeks to withdraw their fourth and fifth causes of action.

Queens Probate Lawyers said in cross-motion, defendants seek summary judgment dismissing the first, second and third causes of action; for an order denying that part of motion which seeks an order directing the defendant to turn over $ 100, 000.00 to plaintiffs; and for a judgment declaring that wife-two is entitled to the previously restrained insured proceeds of $100,000.00 as the sole beneficiary of the life insurance policy issued by the insurance company less the sum of $20,000.00 to be paid to child-two for reimbursement for one-half of the cost of his outstanding college tuition room and board.

The Ruling of the Court:

Under the rules, the proponent of a summary judgment motion must make a prima facie showing of entitlement to judgment as a matter of law, tendering sufficient evidence to eliminate any material issues of fact from the case. To grant summary judgment, it must clearly appear that no material and triable issue of fact is presented. The movant has the initial burden of proving entitlement to summary judgment. Failure to make such a showing requires denial of the motion, regardless of the sufficiency of the opposing papers. Once such proof has been offered, the burden then shifts to the opposing party, who, in order to defeat the motion for summary judgment, must proffer evidence in admissible form and must show facts sufficient to require a trial of any issue of fact. The opposing party must present facts sufficient to require a trial of any issue of fact by producing evidentiary proof in admissible form and must assemble, lay bare and reveal his proof in order to establish that the matters set forth in his pleadings are real and capable of being established. Summary judgment shall be granted only when there are no issues of material fact and the evidence requires the court to direct a judgment in favor of the movant as a matter of law.

Here, at the time of death of decedent-two, child-one was nineteen years of age and child-two was twenty years of age. Child-two became emancipated at the time of his father’s death, pursuant to the terms of the subject Stipulation of Settlement. Nonetheless, wife-two admits that payment of $20,000 is due to child-two to pay for one half of his college costs. Although she is willing to pay for the same out of the S100, 000.00’s being restrained by the Court, the court determines that the obligation to pay for one half the college expenses of the children as provided by the Stipulation and Settlement relating to the divorce is separate and apart from the obligation of decedent-two to maintain a life insurance policy in the minimum amount of $100,000.00 for the benefit of his children so long as they are not emancipated. Therefore, that S20.000.00 which wife-two admits is to be paid from the assets of the estate of decedent-two, if any, and not from the S100, 000.00 life insurance policy. Accordingly, judgment is granted to child-two in the amount of S20.000.00 as against the estate of decedent-two.

On the other hand, there are factual issues concerning whether child-one voluntarily became emancipated prior to her father’s death; whether she was forced to move out of by wife-two or whether she voluntarily left the household. There are further issues concerning decedent-two’s obligation to support his child up to age twenty-one pursuant to the Stipulation of Settlement of 19 September 1996 and Domestic Relations Law and Family Court Act, and thus whether decedent-two was obligated to continue to pay support of child-one until age twenty one pursuant to the Settlement. There are further factual issues concerning decedent-two’s obligation pursuant to that Stipulation to pay for one half of his daughter’s college education until age 22 if still in college and not emancipated and whether wife-two interfered with that obligation. To this note, child-one testified that she was told to move out of her family home by her stepmother; that she continued to visit her father and family and share holidays and occasions with them, but received no monetary support from her father.

In the case at bar, it must be noted that pursuant to Domestic Relations Law and Family Court Act, a parent is obligated to support his or her children, according to the needs of the children and the means of the parent, until the child attains the age of 21 or is sooner emancipated.

Although the parties discuss that there was a life insurance policy which wife-two was made the sole beneficiary for, no such policy has been presented to the Court for inspection to determine if she is the sole beneficiary or the trustee thereof for the benefit of the children; and pursuant to the Stipulation of Settlement, the life insurance policy was supposed to be in the name of decedent-two’s first wife, as trustee. Additionally, absent from the affidavit of wife-two is whether there were any other policies of insurance on the life of decedent-two which specifically named the children as beneficiaries. It has not been disclosed to the Court if decedent-two left a Last Will and Testament with any provisions for the distribution of assets of his estate in lieu of or in addition to the life insurance policy for the children. A copy of a Will has not been presented to the Court for inspection, there was no mention if it was submitted for probate, and no party has applied for Letters Testamentary or Letters of Administration (for estate administration purposes in an estate litigation) relating to the estate of decedent-two. No reason for the failure to obtain Letters Testamentary or Letters of Administration has been offered. Accordingly, the court finds that these factual issues preclude summary judgment to the plaintiffs, the children, and to the defendant, wife-two.

On that part of the motion which seeks an order permitting withdrawal of the fourth and fifth causes of action, it is granted and are deemed withdrawn.

In sum, the motion by the plaintiffs for summary judgment on the first, second and third causes of action is granted only to the extent that judgment is granted as a matter of law to the plaintiff, child-two, in the amount of $20,000.00 as against the estate of decedent-two for the one-half obligation of the decedent for the costs of college incurred by child-two pursuant to the Stipulation of Settlement dated 19 September 1996; the motion for an order permitting the plaintiffs to withdraw the plaintiffs’ fourth and fifth causes of action is granted and the fourth and fifth causes of action are deemed withdrawn; the cross-motion by the defendant, wife-two, for summary judgment to the moving defendant dismissing the first, second and third causes of action is denied; the motion for an order denying that part of plaintiff’s motion which seeks an order directing the defendant to turn over $100,000.00 to plaintiffs is denied; the motion for an order vacating the previous order of the court dated 23 June 2009 restraining wife-two from accessing so much of the life insurance proceeds received in the amount of $100,000.00 is denied; and the motion for an order dismissing that part of the complaint for judgment directing wife-two to turn over to child-two the sum of $20,000 as and for reimbursement for one-half of his college tuition, room and board at the State University of New York at Cortland has been rendered academic by that part of the decision rendered in motion and is denied as moot.

In situations like the above, a highly competent, skilled and well experienced Suffolk County Estate Litigation Lawyer is what you need. For the best ones, contact us at Stephen Bilkis & Associates. Call us and confer with our Suffolk County Estate Administration Attorneys, and the like. We have free consultation services for you to be apprised of the legal remedies available in your situation and what a legal action in court entails.

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