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New York Fraud

A last will and testament is supposed to be a person’s opportunity to retain control over what happens to his (or her) assets once he passes away. Under New York law, with few restrictions people can use their will to dispose of their probate property in pretty much any way they want to. They can choose to disinherit people who expect to receive property, and they can surprise others who would not expect anything. Unfortunately, wills do not always reflect the testator’s wishes because far too often there are occasions in which people who would not otherwise have received anything in a will use fraudulent means to get control of the testator’s property. If you believe that a loved one’s will is fraudulent or that someone used fraud to manipulate your loved one into making a will he (or she) would not have otherwise made, the law allows you to object to the will being probated. An objection to probate is a type of estate litigation that allows interested parties to petition the court and challenge the validity of a will. Fraud is but one of several grounds for contesting a will. To learn more about the process contact an experienced New York fraud lawyer to discuss your concerns.

Fraud

A fraudulent will is a last will and testament that does not reflect the testator’s wishes due to deceit. Activities that would result in a fraudulent will include:

  • Lying in order to manipulate the testator to change his (or her) will. For example, in his will 70-year-old Todd left his estate to his 4 grandchildren. He had always been adamant about treating his grandchildren the same. So in his will provided that each of his grandchildren would receive 25% of his estate. Over the years, Cindy, one of the grandchildren tried to ingratiate herself to Todd by being extra nice and helpful to him. She hoped that he would offer her money while he was alive and that he would leave her a greater share of his estate. No matter what she he did, Todd did not change his will. As Todd got older and his health failed, he did not see family as often. It was difficult for him to leave his house. Cindy still visited Todd frequently. One day she told Todd that a tragic accident had happened and that 2 over his other children had been killed. This was a lie. Todd was devastated. He wanted to go to the funeral. Cindy discouraged him from attending, telling him he was too sick to go. A few weeks later, Cindy encouraged Todd to update his will to remove the grandchildren that she said had died. Todd did so. As a New York fraud lawyer will explain, with evidence of Cindy’s actions, the Surrogate’s Court would invalidate the will based on fraud.
  • Forgery. If the signatures of the testator or witnesses were forged, the will would be fraudulent. New York law does allow someone other than the testator to sign a will for the testator. However, for the will to be valid, the testator must direct that person to sign the will, and the person must do so in the presence of the testator. A defense to a claim of forgery would not be that the testator knew that the person was signing for him (or her). For example, when Bonnie passed away, her estranged husband, Benny filed a will with the probate court that named him as the executor and sole beneficiary of Bonnie’s estate. Bonnie’s daughter, Annie, who was also Benny’s stepdaughter, filed an objection to the will on the grounds of fraud. With the help of an experienced fraud attorney in New York, Annie was able to show that neither of the witnesses had actually signed the will. In fact, one of the witnesses had passed away 3 months prior to the when he supposedly witnessed Bonnie signing the will.
  • Impersonation. Another type of fraud would be for someone to impersonate the testator. For example, Bob, Joe’s brother, wanted to gain control of Joe’s vast estate. Joe had left his estate to his children. Joe was in failing health and was not expected to live much longer. Desperate, Bob contacted an attorney, pretended to be Joe, and executed a will leaving himself the majority of Joe’s estate. This will is fraudulent.
Legal standing in New York

If you are concerned that someone lied in order to manipulate a testator into making a particular will, or that some other type of fraud was involved with a will, even if you have compelling evidence of such fraud, you will not be permitted to file a will challenge unless you have legal standing to do so. Under the New York law only those who have an immediate, direct financial interest in the will have the legal standing to challenge the will. This greatly limits who can file a will challenge based on fraud or any other reason.

Anybody or any entity named as a beneficiary in the will that is challenged would have standing. This would include relatives who were named in the will, friends who are named in the will, other people who are named in the will, and entities such as charitable organizations named in the will. Beneficiaries of a prior will would also have legal standing, as they stand to benefit financially if the will challenge is successful. In addition, relatives who are legal heirs of the decedent under New York’s intestate succession rules would also have standing to initiate a will challenge.

If you are unsure as to whether you have legal standing to challenge a will, an experienced New York fraud attorney will be able to determine your status. Consequences of a finding of fraud

If the Surrogate’s Court judge agrees that the will is fraudulent, there are several potential consequences:

  • Fraudulent will thrown out. Because the law does not probate fraudulent wills, the court may proceed as if it never existed. This may mean that if the testator created a will prior to the one that was declared invalid the court may probate prior will instead.
  • No will. If the testator did not have a prior will, the Surrogate’s Court will proceed with the administration of the estate as if the testator passed away without a will. The result would be that the decedent’s estate would be distributed according to New York’s rules of intestate succession. This means that if the decedent left a surviving spouse and decedents, they will share in the decedent’s entire estate. Otherwise, depending on who survives the decedent, his property would go to his parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts/uncles, or other relatives.

A likely consequence of any type of will challenge is that the entire process of probate and administration will be delayed. Even if the court determines that there was no fraud and that the will is valid, the time involved in the Surrogate’s Court reviewing evidence, and making a determination as to whether or not there was fraud would take time. In New York the administration process typically takes 7-12 months. With the added time of the will challenge, it may take over 12 months before the dispute is settled, administration is complete, and assets are distributed to beneficiaries or heirs.

Contact the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates

If you believe that the will of a loved one is fraudulent, contact an experienced fraud attorney serving New York at the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates. We have over 20 years of experience representing executors, beneficiaries, and heirs in disputes related to wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and other estate documents. We will explain the details of how to proceed with a will contest and help ensure that your interests are protected throughout the process. Contact us at 1-800-NY-NY-LAW (1-800-696-9529) to schedule a free, no obligation consultation regarding your case. We represent clients in the following locations: Manhattan, Nassau County, Queens, Staten Island, Suffolk County, Bronx, Brooklyn, Long Island, and Westchester County.

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