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WILL CONTESTS: WHO HAS STANDING TO CONTEST A WILL?

15
Jun

By Jason Stern

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NEW YORK WILL CONTEST LAWYERS

Who can contest a will?

Unfortunately, near the end of the lives of our loved ones, it is not uncommon for a close or distant relative or even complete stranger to develop a close relationship with them. Usually this relationship is not out of the kindness of their hearts but rather a concerted effort to appoint themselves as both executor and sole beneficiary of our loved one’s estate. When elderly or infirmed people are most susceptible to influence, this opportunist will often visit with an attorney and have them draw up an entirely new will.

Eventually when the loved one passes, this opportunist will have the attorney draftsman offer the ill devised testamentary instrument (will) to probate (be filed with the Surrogate’s Court).

This is where we come in. As New York’s most highly experienced will contest lawyers we come to court and object to this ill-conceived will’s authenticity. Once we object to the legitimacy of this purported will, the court holds examinations requiring the creators of the will to authenticate it.

How to contest a will?

There are a few grounds to contest a will including execution, testamentary capacity and undue influence. Through a combination of medical evidence, witness testimony and good lawyering we slowly build a case illustrating each element needed to invalidate the purported will.

Who can contest a will? Estate of Gottlieb

In New York State, even under the most egregious of circumstances, a party must have standing to contest a will. On July 1, 2007 Mollie Bender died in Manhattan. Mollie Bender was the heiress to her brother William Gottlieb. Gottlieb was a New York real estate developer who owned more than $1 billion of Lower Manhattan properties. Mollie Bender had made a will in 1991 leaving her fortune to her two children and two grandchildren. Thereafter in 2005, Mollie rewrote her will leaving her entire estate to her son Neil Bender, disinheriting her daughter Cheryl and two grandchildren. Mollie Bender died in 2007 igniting one of the largest Manhattan will contests in history. Mollie Bender’s grandson who was in her prior 1991 will and cut out of the 2005 will, retained a Manhattan estate lawyer to contest the will. They argued that the decedent’s son used undue influence and fraud to force Mollie to change her will naming her son Neil Bender as her sole beneficiary of this billion-dollar estate. Three years later the New York Appellate Court ruled that the grandson of Mollie did NOT have standing to challenge this will. The Gottlieb Court reasoned that as a grandson, he was neither a distributee under the current will nor a distributee if the 2005 will were revoked. Interestingly, the grandson tried to offer a copy of Mollie’s 1991 prior will which left the grandson a quarter of Mollie Bender’s Estate to the court as evidence of his standing. However the Gottlieb Court found that a previously destroyed will can ONLY be introduced to establish standing to contest a more recent will when it can be shown by facts and circumstance that such prior will was fraudulently destroyed and not revoked. Unfortunately for Mollie Bender’s grandson he was unable to prove that the 1991 will had been fraudulently destroyed to establish his standing to contest the 2005 will.

Will contests can become very complicated very quickly. As highly experienced Manhattan will contest attorneys, the Law Offices of Jason W. Stern & Associates has one of the most successful track records in New York. We know that will contests are not only about money but have an emotional component as well. If you think you or someone you know may have a loved one who was unduly influenced at the end of their lives, please call our offices today at (718) 261-2444 for a free consultation.