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Court Decides Will Jurisdiction Issue


This case involves the settlement of the estate of a French born individual who acquired American citizenship at the age of 51 and died at the age of 79 in his domicile which was in Switzerland. He was survived by his wife a French national, and an acknowledged illegitimate son also a French citizen. The decedent left a will leaving all of his properties to his widow and leaving nothing to the said acknowledged illegitimate son. At the time of his death, the testator left properties in Switzerland, New York and France. The widow filed with a proceeding with the New York Surrogate court in order to claim the properties left by the testator and presenting the will for determination in the said court. The court admitted the will of the testator and took cognizance of the case and later on made a decree settling the estate administration by ordering that the properties net of any encumbrances and other obligations be released to the widow.

The acknowledged illegitimate son assailed the decision of the Surrogate Court of New York and filed an appeal for the revocation of the decrees made by the said court first when it assumed jurisdiction and second when it distributed the properties to the widow to the detriment of the share that the petitioner-son was supposed to be entitled if the case was tried in the court of Switzerland. The petitioner further alleged that since the decedent was a resident of Switzerland and he had considerable personal properties in the said country and only limited personalty in New York, then the court that has jurisdiction and the laws to be applied should be according to the Swiss law as envisioned in the 1850 Treaty between the United States and Switzerland that envisioned such a scenario happening with their citizens.

A New York Probate Lawyer said the petitioner then is of the opinion that the Surrogate Court of New York had no jurisdiction to try the issues involving this particular case. The petitioner also argued that there were personal properties in Switzerland that was brought by the widow to New York just so that it can be covered by the laws of New York which is according to him highly irregular and should also be struck down as a violation of the law.

The widow, which is the respondent in this case, argued that the decree made by the Surrogate Court should be made to stay and apply as conclusive as far as the defeated will contest claims of the petitioner is concerned. The reason being that, the petitioner also participated in the Surrogate Court’s proceedings and only questioned the assumption of jurisdiction of the said court and nothing more. Nassau County Probate Lawyers said the respondent also argued that, the US-Swiss treaty applies only to Swiss citizens and/or domiciliary and not to American citizens who was in the Swiss country for temporary sojourning purposes. That because of this treaty interpretation the Swiss law does not apply to the probate of the decedent’s will pertaining specifically to personal properties found in other countries such as the US.

The issues squarely presented before the higher court involved two major issues. First; on whether the estate litigation decree in a New York Surrogate Court should be vacated. Two; on whether the US-Swiss Treaty should be given effect as to this particular case.

As to the first issue, the tribunal ruled that the petitioner is no longer allowed to contest the decree made by the Surrogate Court as far as the estate administration is concerned because he participated in the said court’s hearing and did not assail the proceedings. He only wanted to stop the proceedings for alleged lack of jurisdiction and did not contest the manner in which the proceeding was conducted much less argued that he should have a share in the properties. As for the personal properties that were allegedly brought by the widow from Switzerland to New York so as to be covered by the decision, the court also noted that the petitioner knew of this development and he also did not timely object to such a move. Failing to appeal the decree of the surrogate Court also barred the petitioner from further contesting its jurisdiction.

As to the second issue, the tribunal ruled that since the petitioner participated in the Surrogate court’s proceedings and did not contest the finding of the said court as far as the domiciliary determination of the decedent which was New York, then the petitioner is also precluded from later assailing such decree. Brooklyn Probate Lawyers said at best, the petitioner got a reprieve when the court declared that the order of the lower court denying the motion to vacate its decree is dismissed for non-finality.

Issues involving properties of a family member becomes a big concern upon that family member’s death. Without the help of a skilled lawyer to guide you through the entire court proceedings, you may end up holding an empty bag in the end. Stephen Bilkins and Associates have lawyers who are experienced in this field and can ensure that your rights are protected.

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