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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

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 –

Administering the estate of a decedent who dies intestate is sometimes more complicated than one of a decedent who dies leaving a will. The distributees of an intestate decedent are often unknown, leading to citation by publication and a kinship hearing with respect to anyone who appears alleging to be an heir. Frank Santoro discusses these situations in our most recent entry.
Continue Reading Who are the Distributees?

In Matter of Rivas, Surrogate Calvaruso of Monroe County addressed multiple legal issues pertinent to trustees, including but not limited to exoneration clauses, the Prudent Investor Act, delegation of investment responsibilities, and a fiduciary’s duty of loyalty. Frank Santoro discusses the case in our most recent entry.
Continue Reading Construction, Exoneration, Delegation, and Fiduciary Duty

A recent decision from the Westchester County Surrogate’s Court, Edelman v Hatami is an entertaining read. The decision addresses the Statute of Frauds, and provides a good example of how litigants will attempt to employ the equitable doctrines of promissory estoppel and constructive trust in estate litigation. 

In Edelman the defendant sought recovery against a decedent’s

Be careful before you start answering this question.  When it comes to applying CPLR §4519, commonly referred to as the Dead Man’s Statute, easy answers are sometimes hard to find.

CPLR §4519 precludes testimony upon an objection at “the trial of an action or the hearing upon the merits of a special proceeding,” where 1) the witness has a financial  interest in the outcome of the litigation; 2) she is to be examined about a personal transaction or communication of the decedent; 3) she is to be examined as a witness on her own behalf; and, 4) the testimony sought to be elicited is against the fiduciary or survivor of the decedent or a person deriving his title from the decedent. The principle purpose of the statute is to prevent fraudulent claims which could easily be asserted against a decedent’s estate – since the decedent cannot give his version of the transaction or conversation, the financially interested witness is not permitted to give her version. There is no shortage of commentary concerning the Dead Man’s Statute and a great number of cases examine its application (see Matter of Wood 52 NY2d 139 [1981]; Sepulveda v Aviles, 308 AD2d 1 [1st Dept 2003];Matter of Radus, 140 AD2d 348 [2d Dept 1988]; Matter of Miller 97 AD2d 581 [3d Dept 1983]; Estate of Breitman, 4/7/99 NYLJ 35, [col. 5] [Sur Ct, Nassau County 1999]; Matter of Dunbar, 139 Misc 2d 955 [Sur Ct, Bronx County 1988]; See also Radigan, The Dead Man’s Statute – Alive and Well in the Surrogate’s Court, 50 NY St BJ 470 [1980];  Brooks, It’s Time to Kill the Dead Man’s Statute, NYLJ, July 18, 1988, at 1, col 1).   

By its plain language, CPLR §4519 has no application at any stage of a proceeding or action other than at “a trial or a hearing on the merits.” It is clear that the statute has no application during pre-trial discovery at a deposition pursuant to Article 31 of the CPLR. Similarly, it has no application in examinations held pursuant to SCPA §§1404, 2211, or at an examination during the inquisitorial stage of a discovery proceeding (see Philips v Kantor & Co., 31 NY2d 307 [1972]; Lemlich v Lemlich, 266 AD 748 [2d Dept 1943]; Wall Street Assoc. v Brodsky, 295 AD2d 262 [1st Dept 2002]). 

 Continue Reading What is a Trial or Hearing on the Merits?