and Your Family
Long Island Estate Litigation
When someone passes away, his or her estate must go through a formal court supervised administration process during which the estate is settled and assets are distributed to the decedent’s beneficiaries or heirs. The process is called probate when there is a will and estate administration in the absence of a will. The executor or personal representative is responsible for managing the process. Estate litigation or probate litigation is litigation that happens during the process of administering the estate. There are different types of claims that can be the basis of estate litigation. Estate litigation can lead to added expense to the estate and a delay in the disbursement of assets. If you are concerned about an impropriety related to the estate of a loved one, or you are an interested party in an estate dispute, contact an experienced Long Island estate litigation lawyer at the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates.Common types of estate litigation claims
Common types of claims that are the basis of estate litigation include improper execution, lack of capacity, and undue influence. These are claims that someone who believes that they should have been a beneficiary or who believes that they should have received a large share of an estate might bring. Unlike other types of civil litigation, claims related to an estate dispute are filed with the Surrogate’s Court that is overseeing the administration of the estate at issue.
Improper execution. New York has specific requirements in order for a will to be valid. The person who makes the will, referred to as the testator, must sign the will at the end. It is not good enough for the signature to be elsewhere in the document. Any language that appears in the document after the signature will be ignored. If there is language that is critical that appears after the signature, the judge may invalidate the entire will. The will must also be witnessed by at least two people. “Witnessing” means that the two individuals must be present when the testator signs the will, or the testator must acknowledge in the presence of the witnesses that he or she signed the will. Furthermore, the testator must acknowledge to the witnesses that the document is intended to be his or her last will and testament. If there is evidence that the will was not properly executed, the will may be open to a will challenge. If you have concerns that the will of a loved one was not properly executed, contact an experienced Long Island estate litigation lawyer to discuss your concerns.
Testamentary capacity. Under New York law a testator has the capacity to make a will if he (or she) is at least 18 years old and is of “sound mind and memory.” Allegations of lack of capacity is a common basis for will challenges. A relative may make allegations that the testator suffered from dementia or some other condition that made it impossible for the testator to have understood what he was doing when he executed his will. Such an allegation is often made in cases where the testator was elderly when he or she executed the will. An allegation of lack of mental capacity must be supported by evidence such as medical records or testimony from relatives and friends who were around the testator around the time the will was executed. Testamentary capacity is required at the time the will was executed. It does not matter if at a later the date the testator no longer had mental capacity.
Undue Influence. Undue influence is another common allegation that sparks estate litigation. A will is supposed to reflect the wishes of the testator. If it instead reflects the wishes of someone who selfishly imposed his or her wishes on the testator, the will would not be valid. Undue influence often occurs in situations where the testator is vulnerable due to living alone, being sick, or for some other reason that results in the testator relying on someone else. If that person uses his or her position of power over the vulnerable person to manipulate him or her into changing his will to exclude those he would otherwise include, or minimize their dispositions in favor of the manipulator, then the will would be based on undue influence. Undue influence is often difficult to prove. If you are concerned that a loved one may have been wrongfully influenced by a manipulative person, contact an experienced estate litigation attorney in Long Island.Fiduciary Litigation
Another type of estate litigation is based on accusations that the executor, estate administrator, or other fiduciary acted wrongfully with respect to his or her duties. A fiduciary is someone who owes the highest duty under the law. This means that a fiduciary with respect to an estate must put the interest of the estate above his or her own interests. If a beneficiary or heir believes that the executor has violated his fiduciary duty, he or she can initiate litigation in order to hold the fiduciary accountable. Examples of allegations related to violation of fiduciary duties include accounting irregularities, selling estate assets to a friend for less than market value, failing to pay timely filed claims, and improper distribution of assets.Contact the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates
Whether you are considering challenging a will, have a dispute over how property is being distributed from the estate of a loved one, or believe that undue influence or fraud resulted to last minute changes to a will, the estate litigation attorneys serving Long Island at Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates have the experience and skill to answer questions, explain your legal rights, and help you receive the outcome you are looking for. Contact us at 800-696-9529 to schedule a free, no obligation consultation regarding your case. We represent clients in the following locations: Long Island, Queens, Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Nassau County, Staten Island, Suffolk County and Westchester County.