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Grounds for Contesting a Will in New York

When a loved one passes away, their will is supposed to provide guidance as to how their assets should be distributed. However, there are cases where it is believed that the will does not reflect the true wishes of the testator. When that happens, New York law allows interested parties to challenge the will. In New York, the grounds for contesting a will are quite specific. In this article, we will explore the various grounds for contesting a will in New York. If you have concerns that your loved one’s will is not valid, contact an experienced New York will contest lawyer at Stephen Bilkis & Associates. With over 20 years of experience successfully representing clients in estate matters before the New York Surrogate’s Court, we can help ensure that your legal rights are protected.

Grounds for Contesting a Will in New York

Lack of Testamentary Capacity. To create a valid will, the testator (the person creating the will) must be of sound mind and have testamentary capacity. This means that they must have an understanding of the nature of their assets, the people who would naturally be their heirs, and the significance of the act of making a will. If the testator lacked testamentary capacity at the time of creating the will, the document can be contested. The lack of testamentary capacity could be due to mental illness, dementia, or some other condition that affects the testator's cognitive abilities.

Undue Influence. Undue influence refers to situations where the testator was coerced or manipulated into creating a will that does not reflect their true intentions. If the testator was under the influence of another person at the time of creating the will and did not have the freedom to make their own decisions, the will can be contested. In New York, the party who is challenging the will must prove that undue influence was exerted on the testator.

Fraud. If the testator was tricked or deceived into creating a will that did not reflect their true intentions, the will can be contested on the grounds of fraud. In such cases, the party challenging the will must prove that the testator was intentionally misled, and the false information was used to influence the contents of the will.

Improper Execution. A will must be executed according to New York State law to be considered valid. The will must be in writing, signed by the testator, and witnessed by two people who are not beneficiaries of the will. If the will was not executed according to the state's laws, it can be contested. For example, if the will was not signed in the presence of the witnesses or the testator did not sign the will, the document can be challenged. To help ensure that a will is properly executed and cannot not be invalidated for failing to meet the technical requirements of execution, consult with an experienced New York will contest lawyer.

Mistake. A will can be contested if there was a mistake in the document. For example, if the testator made an error in naming a beneficiary or if a provision in the will was ambiguous, the will can be contested. However, the mistake must be a substantial one and must have affected the testator's intentions for the will.

Forgery. If the will is not authentic, it can be contested on the grounds of forgery. If someone other than the testator signed the will, the document can be challenged.

Revocation. A will can be revoked in several ways. The testator can create a new will, destroy the old will, or execute a revocation document. If the testator revoked the will, the document can no longer be enforced. However, if the revocation was the result of undue influence, fraud, or mistake, the will can be contested. For more information about revoking a will, contact an experienced will contest attorney in New York.

Notable New York Cases on Grounds for Contesting a Will

In Matter of Estate of Rutherford, 907 N.Y.S.2d 103 (N.Y. Surr. Ct. 2010). In a probate dispute, the nieces and nephew contest a will dated May 18, 2007, which excludes them as beneficiaries. Alleging lack of due execution, testamentary capacity, fraud, and undue influence, they sought additional records from the proponent, the decedent's housekeeper. The court quashed a broad subpoena but allowed limited bank record access relevant to cash transactions. The proponent's deposition was reopened. The decision balances privacy concerns and the need for pertinent information in the will contest. Note that the choice of a housekeeper, caregiver, or other person involved in personal services as the sole beneficiary often raises suspicions, particularly if prior wills involving family.

In re Nofal, 35 A.D.3d 1132 (N.Y. App. Div. 2006). In a contested will case between two sisters, the court granted summary judgment in favor of the proponent (younger sister) seeking to admit the will to probate. The court applied the rule that a presumption of testamentary capacity arises when an attorney drafts a will and supervises its execution, especially if supported by an affidavit from a subscribing witness. The proponent presented evidence, including medical records and witness testimony, establishing this presumption, shifting the burden to the objector (older sister) who failed to raise genuine issues of fact. The court reversed the denial of summary judgment, concluding that the proponent was entitled to have the will admitted to probate.

Contact Stephen Bilkis & Associates

Contesting a will can be a complicated and emotional process. If you believe that a loved one's will was not created in accordance with New York State law or that the document does not reflect their true intentions, you should consult with an experienced will contest attorney serving New York at Stephen Bilkis & Associates. The grounds for contesting a will in New York are specific, and you will need to prove that one or more of these grounds apply in your case. We can help you navigate the legal system and work to ensure that your loved one's wishes are carried out as intended. Contact us  at 800-696-9529 to schedule a free, no obligation consultation regarding your case. We represent clients in the following locations: Manhattan, Long Island, Nassau County, Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island, Suffolk County, Bronx, and Westchester County.

Client Reviews
Mr. Bilkis handled both my father and mother's estate issues through very difficult times he was compassionate kind and understanding. In fact the whole firm showed great empathy. Despite the emotional hard time we were having that quickly and efficiently handle all the matters that were necessary to get us the result we desired. Can't recommend them enough. B.B.
From the very first phone call to Stephen Bilkis' office, the staff was extremely polite and helpful in assisting me. Mr. Bilkis was honest and upfront with me from the beginning in what he projected the outcome of my case would be; in the end we got better results than either of us anticipated. He was very genuine and compassionate in understanding my situation and how this legal matter could effect not only myself but my family as well. I highly recommend this law firm and will most definitely continue using them for any future legal needs. Jarrett
Stephen has handled numerous estate matters, criminal matters and family court matters effectively and with a goal-oriented approach. He gets great results and is a results-oriented attorney. Dustin