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.
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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.
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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.
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