My colleagues have written on the enforceability of in terrorem clauses, and the courts continue to confront challenges in reconciling the testator’s intent to impose an in terrorem condition with the rights of beneficiaries to challenge the conduct of their fiduciary. The New York County Surrogate’s Court’s recent decision in Matter of Merenstein provides further

In construing an in terrorem provision, or any part of a will, the paramount consideration is identifying and carrying out the testator’s intent. Although paramount, the testator’s intention will not be given effect if doing so would violate public policy. For example, an in terrorem provision that purports to prevent a beneficiary from questioning a fiduciary’s conduct is void as contrary to public policy. The recent decision of Matter of Sochurek illustrates the difficulty in reconciling the testator’s intention in respect of an in terrorem condition with the rights of beneficiaries to obtain an accounting or otherwise challenge the actions of their fiduciary. Brian Corrigan discusses the case in our latest entry.
Continue Reading

In terrorem clauses generally provide that, where a beneficiary under a testamentary instrument unsuccessfully challenges the instrument’s validity, the beneficiary will forfeit any interests obtained under the instrument. Testators include in terrorem clauses in their wills in order to dissuade estate beneficiaries from taking action that is contrary to the testators’ wishes, as expressed in their testamentary instruments. While a paramount objective of the Surrogate’s Court is to act according to testators’ wishes, in terrorem clauses must be narrowly construed, and certain in terrorem provisions are violative of public policy. In our latest post, Rob Harper provides examples of in terrorem clauses that contravene public policy and, thus, are unenforceable under New York law.
Continue Reading

Last week, the Court of Appeals rendered a significant decision regarding the extent of discovery that may be conducted without triggering an in terrorem clause. In Matter of Singer, objections to probate were never filed. However, the issue presented was whether a beneficiary’s decision to depose the decedent’s prior attorney, a form of discovery not protected by the safe harbor provisions of EPTL 3-3.5 or SCPA 1404, triggered the two in terrorem clauses set forth in the propounded will. Jaclene D’Agostino discusses the case in this week’s blog entry.
Continue Reading

Although void in some states, it is well settled that in terrorem or no contest clauses are enforceable under New York law. In a recent case, Surrogate Glen addressed the question of whether an in terrorem clause had been triggered by the petitioner contesting a New York instrument before a Florida court. This week’s entry, written by Robert Harper, discusses the decision.
Continue Reading