A recent case decided by the Richmond County Surrogate revisits the law pertaining to probating lost or damages wills. In Matter of Larsen, the decedent’s will, apparently damaged in a flooded basement to the extent that the signatures thereon were washed clean, was admitted to probate. Frank Santoro discusses the decision in our latest entry.
Continue Reading A Flood . . . in the Basement

Estate litigators arguably see more probate contests than any other type of conflict. While the details are always unique, they almost always include allegations that someone unduly influenced the decedent to change his or her will to either disinherit, or favor, a particular person. These cases also often include an allegation — which is usually contested — that the purported influencer was in a “confidential relationship” with the decedent. The frequency of such claims beg the questions (1) what exactly is a “confidential relationship,” and (2) what is the practical benefit to an objectant in establishing that one existed? Jaclene D’Agostino addresses these questions in our latest entry.
Continue Reading What is a Confidential Relationship and How Does it Affect a Probate Contest?

Many estate practitioners are familiar with contested matters in which a charity interested in the proceeding is cited, as is the Attorney General, and both the Attorney General and private counsel for the charity appear in the proceeding. In such cases, both the Attorney General and the charity’s counsel represent the charity. What happens, however, when the status and identity of the charitable beneficiary is less than certain? That was precisely the situation facing the New York County Surrogate’s Court in the probate contest involving the much-publicized estate of Huguette Clark. John Morken discusses this portion of the Clark case in our latest entry.
Continue Reading Representation of Charities by the Attorney General

A recent decision of the Richmond County Surrogate’s Court addressed a frequently litigated issue in Surrogate’s Court litigation – – whether the proposed or nominated fiduciary should be disqualified from serving in a fiduciary capacity on the grounds of “dishonesty” or “improvidence.” In the Estate of George Mathai a familiar dynamic was in play –

In a decision that could well cause even the most casual trusts and estates practitioners to scratch their proverbial heads in wonder, the Appellate Division, Third Department, in Matter of Buchting, 111 AD3d 1114, 975 NYS2d 794 (3d Dept 2013), recently affirmed the determination of the Surrogate’s Court, Greene County, dismissing a “due execution” objection to probate, notwithstanding that both attesting witnesses invoked their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination and refused to testify at their SCPA 1404 examination concerning the execution of the will. Eric Penzer discusses the decision in our latest entry.
Continue Reading “Easy” Cases Make Bad Law Too

Although summary judgment in a contested probate proceeding historically has been rare, the recent trend has been for Surrogate’s Courts to grant such relief with increasing frequency. Consistent with that recent trend, Surrogate’s Courts have granted summary judgment dismissing probate objections alleging that a testator lacked testamentary capacity, notwithstanding the testator’s diagnosis of dementia before executing the propounded will. Our latest entry, written by Robert M. Harper, discusses several cases in which a testator’s diagnosis of dementia prior to executing the propounded will was insufficient to raise a triable issue of fact to withstand summary judgment dismissing a capacity objection.
Continue Reading Testamentary Capacity, Summary Judgment and a Testator’s Diagnosis of Dementia

In a 2010 criminal proceeding, Leatrice Brewer admitted to drowning her three children in a bathtub, and entered a plea of “not responsible by reason of mental disease or defect.” Now, in the related Surrogate’s Court proceeding pending in Nassau County, the administrator of the children’s estates has requested application of the “slayer rule” to prevent Ms. Brewer from benefitting from her actions. Spencer L. Reames discusses the case, and the possible boundaries of the slayer rule vis a vis the insanity defense, in our latest entry.
Continue Reading When a Black Letter Rule Meets a Gray Area: the “Slayer Rule” and the Insanity Defense