New York Will Contest Attorneys

Estate lawyer in New York

Representing Clients in Complex Will Contests

While the large majority of wills go through probate without many problems, there are wills submitted to the court with suspect provisions or drafted under unusual circumstances. Often, these wills leave out close family members or make other changes that harm expected beneficiaries.

If you believe you should inherit under a will, and you learn that the will has suspicious terms that reduce or eliminate your inheritance, you should discuss your concerns with an experienced trusts and estates firm right away. At Goldfarb Abrandt Salzman & Kutzin LLP, we represent clients bringing will contests, as well defending a will against a contest. These cases are complicated, and you need the right attorney on your side. Consult a member of our legal team today at (212) 387-8400.

Reasons to Contest a Will

First, not anyone can contest a will in New York. For this to even be an option, you must have a pecuniary interest in the will, which means a monetary interest. This include:

  • Beneficiaries who were set to receive more assets under a previous last will and testament than under the existing will
  • Heirs that would receive more under New York law if there was no will than under the existing will

Next, you need to have grounds to contest a will. There are different grounds commonly stated in will contests, including the following:

Improper executionNew York law sets out certain requirements for a will to be valid and enforceable. If a will fails to meet one or more requirements, the court can declare the will invalid and order distribution of property according to a prior will or to New York intestacy laws. Grounds to claim improper execution of a will include:

  • The testator did not sign the will at the end, above the witness signatures
  • The testator did not sign the will in the presence of at least two witnesses or confirm the signature to the witnesses
  • The testator did not tell the witnesses that they were witnessing a will signing
  • Two witnesses did not sign the will within 30 days of another

If someone signed in the middle of a will or at the bottom of a page of the will and then added provisions below the signature, those provisions would be invalid since a signature must be at the end of the will. This is only one example of how you can challenge terms of a will or an entire will due to improper execution.

Revocation – If a testator revoked a will, that will should no longer govern property distribution. There are different ways to revoke a will, such as:

  • The testator properly executed a subsequent will
  • The testator creates a written document that meets the formalities of creating a will and expresses a clear intention to revoke the will
  • The testator destroys the will through tearing, ripping, burning, or another act intended to destroy the document

When someone revokes a will, this does not mean that a prior will goes back into effect. If someone does not execute a subsequent will after a revocation, the court will consider them to have died without any will at all. If you believe that your loved one revoked a will, you can contest if someone submits that will to probate.

Lack of testamentary capacity – New York also requires that a person have the requisite mental capacity to execute a valid will. In order to have the capacity, the testator must understand the nature and extent of the property they own and the people who are the natural objects of their bounty, who should be their beneficiaries. They also must understand that they are creating a will and what the implications of the will provisions will be. Proving a lack of capacity can be difficult, and usually requires the testimony of the witnesses to the will signing, as well as experts who can evaluate the state of the testator’s mind. However, a successful claim of lack of testamentary capacity will invalidate the will.

Fraud – If a person creates or amends a will based on fraud, the will or specific amendments can be invalidated. In order to prove fraud as a will contest, you must sufficiently prove that someone gave the testator false information and the testator based the will provisions or amendments on that false information. You must demonstrate a clear connection between the particular statement and the changing of the will.

Undue influence – Undue influence occurs when someone uses their relationship with the testator or position of authority to wrongfully benefit from the testator’s property. Influencers can be close family members, caretakers, and any other party that gets close to the testator and convinces him or her to change the will in the influencer’s favor. Often, evidence of undue influence involves a changed will that disinherits expected beneficiaries, such as children, and instead, favors an unexpected individual, such as a cousin or more distant relative. You must prove that the testator would not have changed the will if it were not for the undue influence.

The above are the common grounds for will contests in New York. The process of raising a will contest is not an easy one. A court will not invalidate a will just because certain provisions and bequests are unexpected. Instead, there are specific legal standards and burdens of proof you must meet to successfully challenge a will or provisions within. You always need an experienced litigator handling a will contest.

Contact Our New York Estate Attorneys Today

If you learn about provisions in a will that seem suspicious and you are a beneficiary or heir, you should discuss your concerns with a skilled estate lawyer as soon as possible. At the law firm of Goldfarb Abrandt Salzman & Kutzin LLP, we regularly represent clients who deserve to receive more from a will. We will evaluate the circumstances surrounding the will and can advise you of your rights and options to challenge the will, guiding you through every step of the legal process and representing you in court. Contact us online or call (212) 387-8400 for more information today.