To object to the probate of a will, party must have a pecuniary interest that would be adversely affected by the admission of the instrument to probate. In Estate of Saunders, the Kings County Surrogate’s Court recently issued two decisions addressing the standing arguments of litigants in this context. Hillary Frommer discusses these cases in our latest entry.
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Very often, when the proponent of a will (and sometimes even the attorney-draftsperson or witness) is questioned about the decedent’s mental state and the decedent’s instructions, the reflexive response is that the decedent was “as sharp as a tack” and was “as clear as a bell.” But overselling a decedent’s capacity and clarity of communication using tired metaphors may result in the trier of fact becoming suspicious of the proponent, perhaps perceiving the proponent as dishonest where other evidence reveals that the decedent likely had diminished capacity. Frank Santoro discusses the issue of testamentary capacity in our latest entry.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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As recognized by Surrogate Glen in the recent decision of Matter of Rosasco, the distinction between undue influence and duress is often blurred in the context of contested probate proceedings. Frank Santoro explains the differences between the two legal concepts in our most recent entry.
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In Matter of Feller, a contested probate proceeding that was decided last week in Monroe County, the Surrogate addressed typical objections pertaining to due execution, testamentary capacity, and undue influence. The decision provides a cohesive illustration of the standards and considerations that Surrogates routinely utilize in addressing these allegations. Jaclene D’Agostino discusses the case in this week’s entry.
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