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How do I contest a will in NY? Adoption and the NY will contest: Estate of Don Brock

23
Jan

By Jason Stern

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As a NYC estate lawyer with two decades of experience contesting fraudulent wills I get this question quite often.  Can I contest this NY will?  And on occasion as NY estate lawyers we even get the more complicated question of can an adopted child contest their parent’s NY estate? 

Just to be clear in NY and most other jurisdictions before an individual may contest a NY will they must first establish their “standing” to do so.  In other words, to prevent unnecessary litigation, only certain individuals who are eligible may contest a NY will.  Who has standing in a NY will contest?  Pursuant to SCPA §1410 any distributee, next of kin, who is adversely affected by the probate of a NY will may attack its contents.  However, a non-distributee, someone not next of kin, may in fact contest a NY will if that individual was in a prior will to a larger extent and adversely affected by the contents of decedent’s most recent NY will.    

As a NY will contest lawyer, another issue concerns the inheritance rights of adoptees.  Pursuant to §117 of the NY Domestic Relations Law, rights of an adoptive child to inherit from birth parents are extinguished at the time the adoptee is given up for adoption.  However, this is not the case where the adopted out child is then adopted back into their birth family by either biological grandparents, any descendants of biological grandparents or a step-parent.  Otherwise, if the adopted out child is adopted by strangers all rights of inheritance are terminated from their natural birth family.  

Nevertheless, once adopted out of their natural family, the adoptee now receives the right to inherit through their new adoptive family as if they were the natural born child of said parents.  Thus, the adoptee’s inheritance rights will include standing to contest any wills of their adopted parents as if they were next of kin, also known as distributees or natural heirs.  

Estate of Don Brock

Don Brock was the founder and CEO of the billion dollar industrial company Astec Industries when he passed away on March 10, 2015 from mesothelioma.  Founding the company in 1972 Don Brock created this international manufacturing conglomerate of construction technology and heavy machinery.  Unable to conceive with his first wife, the couple adopted five children together in 1983.  Don Brock would soon divorce his first wife, marrying his secretary Sammye Brock in 1990. Gradually, Sammye Brock chipped away at her husband Don convincing him to disinherit his five adopted children in favor his herself, second wife Sammye, over the course of two decades.  From 1994 through 2013 Sammye compelled her husband to draft 5 wills each document progressively diminishing his children’s shares until completely omitted altogether in his most recent two instruments.  

Naturally, Don Brock’s five adopted children had no idea their father had omitted them from his estate until after his death.    Obviously, the five disinherited siblings contested their father’s will.  Once objections to their father’s will were filed, attorneys for Brock’s wife Sammye made a motion to dismiss their objections arguing the five adopted children were not blood related or heirs of the decedent and did not possess the requisite standing to contest his estate.  In a surprise to everyone the lower court agreed with Don Brock’s wife and granted her motion, thus dismissing his childrens’ objections. The court’s decision did not sit well with Brock’s five adopted children who appealed this decision to the Appellate Court.  Fortunately for the five children, the lower court’s decision did not sit well the Appellate Court either.  The Appellate court overturned the decision to dismiss the childrens’ objections as judicial error.  The Appellate Court found that the rights of adoptees were no different than any other heir for purposes of establishing standing to contest a will as distributees. Subsequent to this ruling, Don Brock’s wife quickly settled this matter with his five adopted children for a sizable yet undisclosed amount.  

If you think a friend or loved one may have been unduly influenced to draft an invalid will it never hurts to ask the opinion of an experienced NY will contest lawyer.   Feel free to call the NYC will contest lawyers at The Law Offices of Jason W. Stern & Associates for a free consultation at (718) 261-2444. Our NYC estate lawyers have more than 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, Richmond, Westchester, Rockland, Nassau, Orange, Dutchess as well as in the State of New Jersey.

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