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Can a Witness to a Will Signing Also be a Beneficiary?


A New York attorney applied for letters of administration upon the request of the executor of a will. The said executor is also the beneficiary and a nephew of the decedent who was a New York resident at the time of her demise. Upon closer observation of the will, it was noticed that the beneficiary also stood as witness to the execution of the same as shown in the document. Under New York law, a witness cannot be a beneficiary at the same time and this is to avoid among others undue influence from coming into the picture in the execution of the will. This is the only question poised that must be determined by the court in this preliminary estate administration proceeding.

The facts of the case showed that the decedent was a resident of New York. She visited her nephews in Canada and there executed a will in front of 2 witnesses that included the designated executor-beneficiary. In the will, the decedent specifically designated her nephew as the sole beneficiary of her estate relating to personal property and also assigned him as the executor of the same. A New York Probate Lawyer said when the time for presentation of the will came, jurisdiction was acquired by the court over the persons of the 2 other nephews of the decedent but they decided not to participate in the proceedings. A consent and waiver from the other brother was obtained and as such there was no will contest that can hamper the proceedings from commencing under normal circumstances save for the perceived defect in the document as regards the formalities required by the law when it comes to the valid execution of a will.

The petitioner in this regard presented proof of the applicable laws in Canada. He argued that since the instrument was executed in the said country, then the formalities required in executing a will is controlled by the law of the place where it was executed. He argued further that since the will is valid where it was executed, then it must also be treated as valid in New York such that the formalities required by New York law in the execution of a last will and testament should not apply in this particular case. Long Island Probate Lawyers said that the nephew assigned as sole beneficiary-executor can also be a witness at the same time in the said instrument is not irregular under Canadian Law even if the same is not permitted in New York should not be an issue as the place where the instrument was made and deemed to have complied with the requirements must always be given weight.

In deciding the issue of whether or not the will can be probated in New York given the obvious non- conformity with the essential formalities required by New York Law, and taking note that there was is estate litigation in the particular case, the court ruled that the New York Law pertaining to this particular case was enacted for the purpose of discouraging the witness in the execution of a will from having any interest in the estate of the testator. That a witness being devoid of any interest in a will, necessarily would testify only on the truth pertaining to the execution of the said instrument. New York City Probate Lawyers said that the court further declared that it is in conformity to the argument presented by the petitioner and also explained that an instrument that is considered valid in the jurisdiction where it was executed must also be considered as validly executed in New York. Consequently, the court declared finally that the instrument is valid and issued a decree that the will is to be admitted to probate and the letters of administration is also granted to the petitioner.

New York Estate Administration Lawyers are needed when it comes to making sure that you get the right legal assistance in estate settlement proceedings. At Stephen Bilkins and Associates, they have expert New York Probate Lawyers that can readily handle cases and petitions involving cases in New York.

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