Published on:

Court Discusses Will Contest between Son and Stepmother


In legal action arising out of a dispute between the individual plaintiff from New York and his stepmother from Florida with regard to the ownership of corporate stock in a New York corporation, the plaintiffs appeal from an order of the Supreme Court, New York County, and a judgment which granted four motion of the defendants to dismiss the action on the grounds of inconvenient forum. The stock in question had been owned by the father of the plaintiff from New York and the husband of the stepmother from Florida. The couple together had owned and managed the corporation for many years. In a will, the husband bestowed to his wife the corporate stock that had been bestowed to the son in a prior will. It was the offering of the August 1980 will for probate in a Florida court. Objections on the Florida validation had been interposed by the son on the grounds that his father had been incompetent and the subject of undue influence by his stepmother that led to the commencement of the lawsuit in January 1983. Although phrased alternatively, and in some respects inconsistently, the six causes of action set forth in the complaint all rest on the essential claim that at the time the father retired from the corporation, he had entered into an agreement with the son with regard to the disposition of his stock in exchange for the son’s promise alleged to have been fulfilled.

The said agreement states that the son would receive stipends for the rest of his life. Summarized briefly, the complaint alleges that the father had promised to sell and deliver his shares to the corporation and in fact did so, and that the corporation should be declared the lawful owner. That if it be found that the father had not delivered his shares in accordance with his agreement the plaintiffs are entitled to specific performance. That alternatively, the father had promised to bestow the shares to his son in a will, which he would not alter until his death, and he in fact made such a will, the revocation of which in the 1980 will constituted a breach of the agreement. That if at the validation proceedings the will is rejected and the father is deemed to have died without a valid will or under a will not containing endowment of the stock to the son, the plaintiffs are entitled to specific performance. That if declaratory or specific performance relief is not granted, damages should be awarded to the son from the stepmother in the amount that had been paid by the father under the stipend agreement because of her alleged tortious interference with the agreement between the father and his son.

Lastly, that the stepmother and several of the other individual defendants, joined together to cause the father to breach his agreement, activities in furtherance of this plan occurring both in New York and Florida, and that the plaintiffs are entitled to damages in the amount of the stipend payments that had been made to the father.

A New York Probate Lawyer said that four of the defendants, represented by the same attorney, moved to dismiss each cause of action on the grounds of inappropriate forum and further moved to dismiss each cause of action alleging lack of subject matter of jurisdiction, another action pending, the statute of frauds, lack of personal jurisdiction, and lack of against jurisdiction. Not addressing any of the other motions, the Special Term dismissed on the grounds of inappropriate forum, placing primary reliance on the circumstance that the August 1980 will had been offered for validation in the Circuit Court of Dade County in Florida, and that objections to that will had been filed by the son. The court concluded that the ownership of the shares would necessarily be determined in the Florida validation proceeding, and that it would therefore be a waste of the court’s resources to duplicate the work of the Florida courts. The determination seems to be erroneous. The court are confronted with an action brought by a New York corporation and a New York resident concerning the ownership of shares in a New York corporation, the stock certificate for which, both parties agreed on oral argument, has at all relevant times been located in New York. The said facts alone establish that the action has a substantial nexus with this State. Moreover, it is apparent from the record that events relevant to the issues raised occurred both in New York and in Florida. No plausible basis for an application of inappropriate forum is suggested unless that basis is to be found in the circumstance that a will claiming to dispose of the deceased father’s stock in the corporation was offered for validation in Florida. No authority has been called to our attention in giving such dispositive effect to the circumstance. At the time Special Term entered, its order appealed from was pending. As indicated, a validation proceeding in Florida where objections had been filed by the son, alleging that his father was not competent at the time the will was executed, and that he had been the subject of undue influence.

Although the resolution of those issues would clearly have an effect on some of the contentions presented that might have justified deferring trial of the action until after the completion of the Florida proceedings, it is apparent that the issues presented are essentially different from those that had been presented in the Florida validation proceedings. Westchester County Probate Lawyers said that in any event, those proceedings have been concluded, and the will has been accepted for validation. It may well be that in connection with the estate Florida would have subject matter jurisdiction with regard to claims seeking to determine the ownership of shares of stock that the father undertook in the validated will to bestow to the stepmother. But the fact that Florida courts may also have jurisdiction to determine the issues raised in the action is hardly a basis for concluding that New York is not a convenient forum under the circumstances presented. Moreover, it appears that no proceedings addressing the issues presented have even been commenced in Florida, nor are we informed by any of the parties that they contemplate commencing such proceedings. If indeed an action addressing the issues presented here were to be commenced in Florida, it may be that a question of courtesy would then be presented which would require serious consideration on the basis of all the then relevant considerations. But issues of courtesy that might arise in that contingency scarcely provide a colorable basis for concluding now that New York is not a convenient forum to entertain the action that has been commenced here under the circumstances presented. In view of the determination of a majority of this court to affirm Special Term’s dismissal of the action on the grounds of inappropriate forum, an extended discussion of the issues raised by the other motions is not warranted.

Suffolk County Probate Lawyers said the order of the Supreme Court, New York County and the subsequent judgment of that court which dismissed the complaint for inappropriate forum should be modified to the extent of denying the motions to dismiss the third and fourth causes of action as barred by the statute of frauds, and denying that motion as to all other causes of action, and the judgment should be modified to the extent of striking the dismissal of the first, second, fifth and sixth causes of action and reinstating those causes of action, and should be otherwise affirmed.

Inheritance are given to us to provide us relief in any way possible but if these bequest causes us to be under legal disputes then it is a must for us to consult the New York Will Contest Lawyers of Stephen Bilkis and Associates. They can surely provide us with sound legal advice that will guide us in achieving triumph over legal issues.

Contact Information