Westchester County Surrogate’s Court Rejects Will And Grants Summary Judgment in Will Contest

In an August 30, 2011 decision, the Hon. Anthony Scarpino of the Westchester County Surrogate’s Court granted summary judgment in a will contest proceeding. The court denied the will probate, and dismissed the proceeding.

The decedent passed away in late May of 2009, survived by his wife and six children (five from a previous marriage). The will in question was executed in April 2009, distributing to the decedent’s wife an amount equal to her elective share, with the remainder distributed equally among his six children. (An elective share is the percentage of a decedent’s estate that a surviving spouse may “elect” to receive should he or she not receive a just portion of his or her decedent’s estate through the will. In New York, the elective share is equal to the greater of $50,000 or one third of the estate).

1221950_to_sign_a_contract_1.jpgThe decedent’s daughter from a prior marriage served as the proposed executrix of the estate. The same attorney that drafted the will in question served as the daughter’s counsel. The proponent of the will failed to comply with numerous discovery demands, and counsel failed to appear in court numerous times. The objectants filed for summary judgment. Summary judgment can only be granted where there exists no triable issue of fact between what the two adversarial sides present. In support of their motion, the objectants presented several medical documents suggesting that the decedent was suffering from Alzheimer’s-type dementia. In light of this evidence, burden fell to the proponent to prove that the will was duly executed in compliance with New York law. Because the proponent was unable to prove that this was the case, the court granted summary judgment and denied the will probate.

Probate is a complicated process. Obviously in this case the court felt that questions of mental capacity outweighed the will that the proponent presented. In a strongly worded opinion, the court essentially calls the will questionable in its formation and execution. This case serves as a prime example of the importance of estate planning. A skilled estate planning attorney can help streamline the probate process, and in some instances, even circumvent it in its entirety, relinquishing the potential burden to the family after a decedent passes on.

Citation: Will of Charles P. Haynes, 2010-140/A, NYLJ 1202514015710, at *1 (Surr., WE, Decided August 30, 2011).

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