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The Matter of West


NY Slip Op 01314

February 21, 2017

On October 19, 2015, the Surrogates Court entered a will into probate. The court granted the respondent’s motion for summary judgment.

The proponent successfully proved that the will was duly executed. There was a submission of the will’s attestation clause and the affidavit and testimony of the witnesses (Matter of Halpern 76 AD3d 429 [1st Dept. 2010], affd. 16 NY3d 777 [2011]. The objectants did not successfully raise a triable issue of fact.

The respondent also met the burden of proof verifying the decedent’s testamentary capacity when the will was executed. The objectants weren’t able to raise a triable issue of fact (Schlaeger 74 AD3d 405 [1st Department 2010]). The testimony of the witnesses and affidavit showed that the decedent was of sound mind when the will was executed. Hospital records from that day indicate that the decedent was indeed lucid. She was not diagnosed with any mental incapacity.

The court dismissed the petitioner’s undue influence claim because there was no evidence that the proponent took any action that could have caused the decedent to give her estate away that was inconsistent with her wishes (Waltner 6 NY2d 49 [1959]). It was understood that the woman didn’t have the type of personality to act contrary to her own wishes.

The court properly decided that the objectants did not properly state a fraud claim. They failed to produce any statements in evidence that would have indicated that she would not have signed her will or made any modifications

The principle of undue influence is where a person puts pressure on another in a way that holds legal significance. The concept often arises the context of drafting a will or signing a contract. Often the influencer has a relationship with the testator, which can create an opportunity for the influencer to put themselves in an advantageous position. This special relationship can include an attorney, close family member, caregiver, agent, etc.

The court will look at the testator’s intent. If the transfer of assets does not appear logical or is inconsistent with prior statements. This is proven by submitting clear and convincing evidence that the influencer had the opportunity to take the assets.

When proving undue influence, the courts will look at:

  • An unusual bequest was made;
  • The testator was in a vulnerable position;
  • The influencer had the opportunity to assert undue influence;

The influencer used the opportunity to gain assets by inappropriate means.

Often an influencer will:

  • Persistently suggest a change in the will usually favoring themselves;
  • Urge that the change be made as soon as possible;
  • Exclude family from the planning process;
  • Participate in creating the will; and
  • Have a special relationship with the testator.

If undue influence is indicated, the will can be invalidated. It is important to note, however, that the problem may not be discovered until after the testator dies.

If you suspect you are dealing with this, or other probate issues such as drafting a will or creating a trust, speak to the New York estate lawyers at Stephen Bilkis and Associates for guidance. We will provide you with legal advice and a free consultation. Call us today at any of our New York locations, including Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Staten Island, Queens, Nassau County, Suffolk County and Westchester County. Call today at 1-800-NYNYLAW.



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