By Jason Stern
When describing the United States Supreme Court’s legal interpretation of obscenity Justice Potter Stewart brilliantly stated, “I don’t know how to describe it but I know it when I see it.” As a NY probate lawyer with fifteen years of experience contesting fraudulent wills I can say this espcially holds true for undue influence.
Generally speaking there are three grounds to contest a will under New York State Estate Law; execution, capacity and undue influence. If the will was executed by a NY probate attorney the Courts will almost always side with the attorney draftsman on the issues of execution and capacity. As one of a handful of NY probate lawyers to knock out several attorney drafted and executed wills I can tell you undue influence is usually the best grounds to contest a NY attorney executed will.
Much like Justice Stewart’s interpretation of obscenity I cannot always define undue influence but I know it when I see it. Suspect wills usually stand out in my mind for a variety of nebulous reasons. These grounds can range from mental cognitive impairment to a complete physical abduction of the testator’s mind and body.
In general our offices are seeing more and more of these disturbing NY will contests. While people are living longer than in any other period in recorded history they are also more susceptible to developing debilitating diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Dementia as they age. Compounded by the fact the baby boomers find themselves in possession of the greatest amount of wealth ever amassed unlike their successors who are saddled with school loans and credit card debt. As a result, this aged generation now finds itself on top of a heap of wealth, susceptible to anyone with the motive and opportunity to separate them from it. All of these factors come together to create the perfect environment for a landslide of undue influence litigation.
In a recent flurry of litigation, attorneys representing numerous attractive “acquaintances” (acquaintances are depicted above) of the 93 year old CBS-Viacom owner and media tycoon, Sumner Redstone, filed proceedings attempting to gain control of his Five-Billion ($5,000,000,000.00) Dollar empire. That’s Five Billion with a B, and a whole lot of zeroes after it and it’s all up for grabs. Sumner Redstone is not even dead yet and the onslaught of estate litigation to control his fortune has already entered the third inning. While still alive Sumner Redstone is just a shadow of his former self. Old and frail, suffering from Dementia, the once disagreeable Redstone is now only protected by his vast army of estate lawyers who represent his last line of defense. Estranged from his daughter who is also suing Sumner Redstone for control of his multi billion-dollar empire he is left without any close family to care for him or his interests.
For those of us who are not afforded the incredible legal resources to fight off such attacks you can only imagine what happens. If you think a family member may have been taken advantage of by an opportunistic relative or friend it never hurts to ask the opinion of an experienced NY will contest lawyer to see if it amounts to undue influence or fraud. Feel free to call the NY will contest lawyers at The Law Offices of Jason W. Stern & Associates for a free consultation at (718) 261-2444. Our Queens estate lawyers have 50 years of combined NY estate law experience drafting and probating the wills for families like yours in the counties of Queens, New York, Kings, Bronx, Westchester, Rockland, Nassau, Richmond, Orange, Dutchess as well as in the State of New Jersey.