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Court Determines Formula for Calculating Endowments in a Will


In paragraph third of a will, a deceased woman made twenty-seven gifts to individuals and charitable institutions thereto. Each of the endowments was described as consisting of a fixed percentage of her property. The parties are in dispute as to whether the language of gift requires that the legacies be measured in terms of a percentage of the gross or of the net property and, if the latter, as to the formula for determination of its dimensions. The court construes the direction of the woman as requiring division of the property upon its net rather than upon its gross value.

A New York Probate Lawyer said that it is conceded that as a general rule, in the absence of some provision to the contrary, debts and administration expenses are deducted in computing the value of a property when a fraction thereof has been bestowed.

There is nothing to be found anywhere in the will to suggest that the deceased woman entertained any notion of making her endowments in terms of percentages of the gross property and as a consequence, the court cannot concur in the proposition that such was her intention.
The formula to be employed for measurement of the net property requires that there be deducted from the gross value of all of the assets left by the deceased woman, a sum equal in amount to the total of the debts, property taxes and expenses of administration. To be included in the latter category is the sum of $300,000 to be paid to the mother of the deceased woman in consideration of her withdrawal of objections to the admission of the will to probate. To save the legacies for the respondents, it was necessary that the proponents succeed in the will contest by victory after trial or by purchasing peace for the property from the respondent. Either course will entail the expenditure of property funds. The costs of litigation including counsel fee constitute expenses of administration within the ordinary meaning of the term and is plainly beyond dispute. The court is unable to ascertain any distinction between payments for that purpose and the cost of the settlement to which all of the respondents agreed.

Three of the endowments established in paragraph third of the will were left to married couples. A Staten Island Probate Lawyer said this bequest was intended by the deceased woman to be shared by husband and wife jointly and equally and is not open to doubt and the court so holds.

In paragraph third subdivision of the will, provision is made for an endowment to a Protestant Church. A sum equivalent to one-half of one percent of the property was given to the said Church. It has been stipulated by all of the parties that the affidavits of persons familiar with the facts may be treated by the court as the equivalent of common-law proof and the record upon which determination of the questions presented for solution may be made. In connection with the particular issue to which the provision of the will gives rise, there have been received for filing the affidavits of the draftsman of the will and the attorney for the Roman Catholic Church. The attorney states that the name of the church was misspelled. The woman had mistakenly written few alphabets in the name of the church. The attorney claims that in preparing the will, she mistakenly assumed what appeared to be a P to be a symbol for the word Protestant. She later realized that the initials were R.C. and were intended to indicate the words Roman Catholic. It is the attorney’s clear recollection that the woman’s instructions and intent were that the legacy in question be for the Roman Catholic Church in New York City.

Staten Island Probate Lawyers said that in paragraph three of the will, a legacy of one-tenth of one percent of the property is left to a gentleman. The affidavits of intimates of the deceased and the draftsman acknowledge that error an occurred in spelling the name of the said gentlemen. To make it perfectly plain, the beneficiary intended by the woman was her friend of long standing, the respondent, and the will is so defined.

In disposing of a portion of the remainder of one of the two residuary trusts, the woman gives the remaining one-third to the named charitable organizations, each in equal amount to the other.

Did the deceased woman intend to make a gift of an equal share of the remainder disposed of to the eight charitable institutions named or was it her intention, as expressed in the juxtaposition of the titles of the last two legatees designated, that the first six are each entitled to a one-seventh share of the total and the remaining two are entitled to a fourteenth apiece? The position in which the name of a beneficiary appears in a will may have an important bearing upon the rights of its wearer.

The executors take the position that the provision of the will operates to forfeit the legacy of the respondent, but their demonstration of facts upon which they rely in support of their argument falls very far short of depriving the beneficiary of the protection of the Decedent Estate Law. No forfeiture of any benefit under a will shall be occasioned by disclosure on the part of the beneficiary to any of the parties or to a court of information relating to any paper submitted as a last will or by disclosure of such beneficiary to any party or to a court of information relevant in a proceeding for validation of such submitted paper.

No forfeiture of a benefit under a will shall be occasioned by refusal or failure of the beneficiary to join in a petition for the validation of a paper submitted as a will, or by refusal or failure of the beneficiary to execute a consent to or waiver of notice of such validation proceedings.
An infant or incompetent party may affirmatively oppose the validation of a proposed will without forfeiting any benefit thereunder. The respondent filed no objections to the will and the bare contention that he failed to cooperate with the proponents or the criticism of his testimony while being examined as a witness before trial would hardly justify the court in denying him his legacy and its payment is accordingly directed.

The woman died on May 25, 1955 and letters of temporary administration on her property were issued. A question arises as to the date on which interest commenced to run on the general legacies which the deceased woman defined in terms of percentages of her property. Although the amounts of those endowments cannot be definitely determined until the net value of the property is finally established under the earlier ruling in the court’s decision, the general legacies will carry interest on the amounts then fixed running from the date when they matured. The Surrogate’s Court Act and the Decedent’s Law provide that legacies become payable seven months subsequent to the issuance of letters of administration. It has been held in a number of cases that letters of temporary administration are embraced within the phrase letters of administration as employed in both of the sections cited at least to the extent of fixing the date upon which interest commences to run on general legacies. The rule for decision of the case was most clearly stated by the Court of Appeals identical in text with those under consideration here with the exception that the period fixed was a year rather than seven months.

The court said that two questions are presented by the appeal. First is whether interest on a general pecuniary legacy begins to run one year after the deceased woman’s death or one year after the grant of letters of administration and whether the one year mentioned in the after grant of letters means that, the time begin to run from the date of granting the letters of temporary administration in the pending validation proceedings.

The question on whether the words letters of administration as used in the statute includes letters of temporary administration should be answered in the affirmative. The legislature, having used the words letters of administration instead of letters of administration with the will annexed must be deemed to have employed them in their broader meaning, so as to include letters of temporary administration as well.

The court accordingly holds that the legacies began to bear interest at the rate of 3% per annum on February 11, 1956, or seven months after the issuance of temporary letters of administration. It is further directed that the income beneficiary of the pre-residuary trust is entitled to the income earned by the trust from the date of the death of the woman at the rate earned by the property.

Paragraph Fourth of the will permits each of three individuals to select as a memento an item of jewelry from the collection left by the deceased woman with the provision that the selection be confined to individual pieces as distinguished from sets. Having viewed the collection and been aided in its deliberations by the opinions of the expert witnesses, the court holds that lots 5 and 5A or 5 1/2 as designated in the report of the appraiser constitutes sets within the meaning of the will and that only the balance of the collection is available in satisfaction of the bequests.
The Roman Catholic Church is specifically located at Park Avenue New York City is on the list of beneficiary and a sum equivalent to one-half of one percent (1/2 of 1%) of the deceased woman’s property is endowed to the said church. The only church located near the address designated by the deceased woman is the Roman Catholic Church conducted under the auspices of the Society of Jesus. The relationship of the deceased woman to the said church is established on the record from the sources. The will makes it perfectly clear that it was that church which she had in mind and that the inaccuracy was attributable to the error of the clerk. Accordingly the court holds that the legacy is payable to the Roman Catholic Church, specifically, the Church located at Park Avenue New York City.

Since the objections have been withdrawn or reserved for determination on the final accounting, a ruling may then be submitted on notice construing the will in accordance with the foregoing and settling the account, as filed.

The formula to be employed for measurement of the net property requires that there be deducted from the gross value of all of the assets left by the deceased a sum equal in amount to the total of the debts and expenses of administration.

In addition to the foregoing amendment, the court grants the petitioners’ request for leave to abandon certain articles of personality referred to the account and their request to abandon certain records, letters, etc. as set forth in the account.

Last will and testaments are being prepared to avoid issues and confusions from arising in the time of death. Having your name in it signifies the impact you made in the life of that person. It is such an irony that the exact opposite of the intention happens. When you find yourself in such irony, call the experienced lawyers at Stephen Bilkis and Associates.

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