Category Archives: Wills

Elderly Aunt Changes Beneficiary of $6 Million Account

Did Favored Niece Exercise Undue Influence?

Paul Salitsky alleged in his complaint that, in December 2019, Karen D’Attanasio used undue influence or fraud to induce his elderly aunt to execute a form changing the designated beneficiary of a $6 million account from Salitsky to D’Attansio or that she forged his aunt’s signature on the form. The aunt passed away in January 2021. D’Attanasio moved to dismiss several of the claims asserted in the complaint. Supreme Court granted the motion. Salitsky appealed.

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Family Feud Over Painting by Jean-Michal Basquait:

This was originally posted on the SGR Blog.

Court Addresses Validity of Will Disposing of $30m+ Estate

On February 18, 2015, Dolores Ormandy Neumann fell in her home and broke her hip. Her neighbor contacted Dolores’ daughter, Belinda, who took her to the emergency room.

The following day, in the hospital before her hip surgery, Dolores executed a testamentary instrument, her penultimate will. The February 19th document was drafted and its execution overseen telephonically by an attorney in Florida, who worked for the Law Offices of Amy Holzman. Holzman, who worked and resided in New York State, was away on vacation and out of the country at the time. That instrument sought to disinherit Dolores’ spouse, Hubert, and after certain specific bequests, including her most significant asset, a painting by the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, to Belinda, the February 19th instrument also gave Belinda the residuary estate.

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Niece Petitions to Probate Aunt’s Handwritten “Will” That Excluded Uncle:

This was originally posted on the SGR Blog.

Court Decides If Made in Hospital Holographic Will Was Valid

During the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, Juanita Koutsakas was admitted to New York Presbyterian Queens Hospital on March 14, 2020 due to symptoms she was exhibiting from an ongoing battle with cancer. She died in the hospital eight days later on March 22, 2020 survived by her sole distributee spouse Steven.

Proffered for probate was an instrument purportedly handwritten by Juanita in the hospital on March 18, 2020 naming her niece Maria Koutsakos as sole beneficiary. The instrument was on a single piece of folded plain white paper and primarily consisted of one dispositive sentence, handwritten on the top in black ink, followed by the name of two banks, Juanita’s signature and the signature and acknowledgment of a notary public.

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Numerous Defects in Execution of Propounded Will:

This was originally published on the SGR Blog.

Would Court Grant Unopposed Petition to Probate?

Many of us have either signed or witnessed the signing of a will—and are familiar with some of the concomitant practices and procedures.  But the Estates Powers and Trust Law details the four requirements for the due execution and attestation of a will. What is a Surrogate to do if no one objects to the probate of a will even if that statutorily essential quartet is not meticulously satisfied?

In an uncontested proceeding for the probate of an instrument alleged to have been signed by Domenica L. Russo, the Court held a hearing to determine whether the execution of the proffered instrument met the formal requirements of EPTL 3-2.1.

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Navigating the “Bermuda Triangle” of Objections to Probate:

This was originally posted on the SGR Blog.

Court Considers the Trifecta of Standard Challenges

Objections “101″ to the probate of a will would introduce the three most common grounds: lack of due execution (the will was not properly signed); lack of testamentary capacity (the decedent did not know what s/he was doing); and undue influence (a trust or confidence was exploited), But, as a recent case illustrates, objections are easier said than done.

In a contested probate proceeding, Joy M. Hood moved for an order: granting summary judgment dismissing the objections of Joseph W. Peckelis and admitting the will of Albert J. Peckelis to probate. Joseph opposed the motion.

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“Family Feud” Is Not Just a Primetime Realty TV Show: Conflicting Claims to Unit Ownership End Up in Court

This post was originally published on the SGR Blog.

By agreement, circumstance or inheritance, residential cooperative or condominium units often end up being owned by several family owners. A “happy family” can only be found on the menu of a Chinese restaurant. So, as two recent cases demonstrate, the family members sometimes end up in a so-called “partition” proceeding in which the Court must decide if the unit should be sold and the parties account for their claims to the proceeds of the sale.

Vernon A. Anthony and his brother, Robert S. Anthony, own condominium Unit 1 at 46 President Street in Brooklyn, as tenants in common. Needless to say, litigation ensued.

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Bar review deja vu: Duress and undue influence

By Victor M. Metsch

I had trouble enough staying awake in the over-heated ballroom at the Roosevelt Hotel (in 1969) where I took the New York bar review course – and I am sure that I was fast asleep when the lecturer droned on about the procedures and formalities of will execution.  Be that as it may, buried deep within some synapse is the word “duress” and the phrase “undue influence.”

My recollection of cases relating to the signing of wills conjures up anecdotes from the past, rather than real time disputes.  Under those circumstances, I was surprised to see that two consecutive editions of the New York Law Journal featured, as cases of interest, litigation relating to the validity of a last will and testament.

When a testator favor one family member over another, or favors a stranger over the next of kin, the challenges to a purported will by disappointed relatives would most likely include allegations of duress and undue influence.  Often, the favored family member or stranger is a caregiver with a close relationship to the testator and, as testator’s physical and mental capacity begins to deteriorate, the caregiver is in position to exert improper influence on the testator.

While favoring a caregiver may simply reflect the testator’s gratitude, on occasion, the courts find that an instrument  was not the product of the testator’s free volition.  The Court’s inquiry into the allegation of duress and undue influence invariably is factual.  However, the stories of the recent cases not only delve into factual details but also demonstrate that when a testator consciously makes a choice to favor someone at the expenses of next of kin, steps can be made to ensure that the testator’s wishes are respected and the will withstands attack.

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