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Supreme Court Decides 5 Will Contest Cases


This is a decision of the Supreme Court deciding jointly five cases where despite the existence of will that can be admitted into probate, the parties who could be beneficiaries under these wills decided to ask instead for letters of administration. The surrogate courts, in its discretion, thinking it wiser to distribute the estate in accordance with the rules of intestacy, denied the probate of the will and issued letters of administration to the beneficiaries of the estate who applied for the letters of administration.

Letters of administration are requested for when a deceased person left no valid will. It is issued only in cases of intestacy or when a will requested to be admitted into probate is found to be invalid. In each of these cases, there is a will but the requests for letters of administration were granted just the same.

The Court has ruled that in these five cases, the Surrogate Courts did not abuse their discretion. A New York Probate Lawyer said that in all of these cases, none of the beneficiaries, legatees or distributees were willing to proceed to probate seeing as the estates to be disposed of under the probated will were all small. Probate proceedings will so diminish the value of the estates that there will be nothing to distribute after probate. So the Court upheld the Surrogate Courts’ decision to issue letters of administration.

The testator in the first case made her sister her sole distributee in her will. Suffolk County Probate Lawyers said the sister along with two others was named as executors but the two other co-executors renounced their designation as co-executors. The estate was proved to have a value only of $16,000.00. In this case, the Supreme Court allowed the issuance of letters of administration because the estate is small and its distribution under the will would be the same even if distributed as though there was no will. That is, the estate will go in its entirety to the testator’s only surviving relative and heir, her sister.

In the second case, the testator executed a joint will with the husband. In that will, both the husband and the wife left the entirety of their estate to each other and to their daughter. Since both the parents are deceased and they were sole distributees of each other’s will, the entire estate will go to their daughter who was their sole distributee in case they both die before the daughter. The estate was valued only at $40,000. Again, there was a will that seemed to be valid but because there is only one distributee and the estate was small, the result of the probate of the will would be the same if the estate were distributed as though there was no valid will.

In the third case, the woman’s entire estate consisted of proceeds of a damage suit she filed arising out of an accident which resulted in the death of the testator and her husband, three days after the testator. The sole beneficiaries under this will are two adult sons. One son waived his right as co-executor. Long Island Probate Laywers said the attesting witnesses are all residents of other states and searching for them will be difficult and it will further diminish what small value the estate had. The Court issued letters of administration to the son who had not renounced his designation as executor.

In the fourth case, the value of the estate of the testator was only $5,000.00. The distributees are all adults. They appeared in the probate proceeding where the designated executrix in the will, the sister of the testator, asked the court for letters of administration instead of probating the will. All the legatees appeared and all were adults. They signified that they did not at all object to the issuance of letters of administration instead of probating the will. The court there reasoned that continuing with the probate proceedings will only serve to diminish the value of the estate. Moreover, the legatees had already agreed to share equally the proceeds of the estate. So letters of administration were issued as though there was no will.

In the fifth case, the only surviving beneficiary of the will was an uncle who was disabled and who was already a ward of the State. The Public Administrator of New York had petitioned the probate court for the issuance of letters of administration in his favor. It appeared that the expenses so far incurred in taking care of the disabled uncle had amounted to almost equal the value of the estate which he was to receive. Since the uncle was unable to administer or execute the will as he was disabled, the court ruled that those state appointed guardians should be issued letters of administration and they will simply apply the value of the estate to pay for the cost of the care of the uncle.

If the estate is so small that probate proceedings will just deplete the value of the estate, the Court has deemed it proper to proceed with the distribution of the estate under the rules of intestacy. At Stephen Bilkis and Associates, their competent lawyers are willing to assist those beneficiaries of wills where the value of the estate is small.

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