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

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 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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