WHAT IS A FRAUDULENT WILL? Contesting a fraudulent will
A will is hands down the best way to protect your estate when you are gone. However, as a New York estate lawyer, common issues I come across are contested wills. Sometimes, a parent will leave a child less than expected in their will or even omit them completely for personal reasons. Eventually after the parent passes and the upset son(s) or daughter(s) learn of the contents of the will they are very emotional. Nobody wants to confront the harsh facts that maybe their relationship with their parents or loved ones was not as strong as they thought. Other times someone’s will represents emotional circumstances surrounding events that may have happened decades ago.
In any event, as a NY estate lawyer it is my job to memorialize and document my client’s final wishes in their last will and testament and ensure that is what is carried out. As NY estate lawyers our job is two fold. First, we are the gate keepers of each estate and are under strict ethical obligations to ensure any and all wills we execute are free of any fraud, undue influence or clerical mistakes which may deem the will invalid. Secondly, once the time comes to admit the will to probate (file with the court) after the testator’s death, it is our obligation to see that it gets done properly.
For the reasons stated above, even the most airtight wills may be challenged when a distributee is not happy with the contents of the will. This is often the case when unresolved personal issues trump logic requiring a NY estate litigation attorney to take over. Since our firm is one of the few estate firms in NY who have successfully litigated will contests, this process is routine for us. If our firm executed the will, there is a 100% chance it will be admitted to probate after a hearing or two. But what happens when a less responsible attorney executes a will they should not have?
When is a will conceived by Fraud?
Most people have an idea what they think a fraudulent will to be. According to the Appellate Division of the State of New York in the Estate of Ryan, a will is conceived by fraud when the objectant demonstrates that the defendant knowingly made false statements to the testator that caused him or her to execute their will that disposed of their property in a manner differently than they would in the absence of that statement. Simply stated, the client was told a falsity by a third party, which caused him or her to change their will based on that falsity.
I know this as a NY estate lawyer first hand because I just successfully litigated this very issue. The testator was an 88-year-old woman who kept going back to the same lawyer over a period of years with a nonrelative. Each time this elderly woman would go back to her not so swift attorney, she would gradually disinherit her blood relatives while leaving this nonrelative the remainder of her estate. Her most recent will was executed on her deathbed revoking a prior will which left a generous sum to each relative. Finally, in her last will the testator disinherited some relatives completely while leaving others only a tiny portion of their amounts bestowed under the prior wills.
Our firm was hired to contest this last will and testament of the testator. At the deposition of the attorney draftsman, I learned that it was the nonrelative who was supplying the attorney with the changes to the will. This nonrelative lied to the attorney draftsman, informing him the testator was running out of money and could not afford to include all of her relatives in her will. Without confirming these facts to be true, the naïve attorney drafted this new will based on this lie, thus excluding the testator’s rightful heirs out of their inheritance. Fraud .
This will was eventually denied probate and a previous will was admitted in its place. Unfortunately the actions of this naïve attorney were nearly catastrophic. As a NY estate lawyer we are charged with looking out for such instances where an opportunist will try to take advantage of a person nearing the end of their life. It is important for every estate attorney to look out for the signs of fraud before the will is executed and the harm is complete.
If you think a naïve or unscrupulous estate attorney may have helped draft a fraudulent will for a friend or loved one feel free to call a NY estate lawyer at the Law Offices of Jason W. Stern & Associates at (718) 261-2444 for a free consultation.
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