As an experienced NY will contest lawyer I can tell you the single greatest opportunity to steal wealth comes towards the ends of our loved one’s lives when they are weak and feeble. In our NY will contest lawyers’ 50 years of combined legal experience successfully challenging and contesting fraudulent attorney drafted wills I’m ashamed to say this is not out of the norm. Often times it does not take much to bring the elderly to a neighborhood NY estate lawyer with flexible morals and draft an instrument bequeathing an entire estate, often millions of dollars, to themselves. In fact more often than not, the NY estate lawyer is actually brought to the home of the elderly to execute the dubious paperwork.
In our daily practice as NY will contest lawyers our NY estate attorneys come across a plethora of spectacular fact patterns. These instances customarily indicate that a purported testamentary instrument, a will, was more likely than not the product of undue influence or fraud exerted over the elderly by someone close to them. These circumstances are so common that the NY estate law even has an entire body of law dedicated to the investigation, authentication and the challenging of such wills.
The criminals do not always get away with their fraud. If the right family members and witnesses come forward, the participants including but not limited to the NY estate lawyers who drafted the fraudulent will, can face monetary fines and even criminal prosecution. In my previous article I wrote about one of the most infamous will contests in U.S. history, the Estate of Brook Astor.
Does crime pay?
Not in this case. Brook Astor, beloved socialite, New York philanthropist and heiress to the Astor fortune drafted a will leaving 50% of her $100 million estate to charitable foundations while leaving the remaining $50 million to her only son, Anthony Marshall. This did not sit well with her son Anthony Marshall who sought the entire $100 million rather than half. Thereafter, in 2006, Anthony Marshall’s sons came forward alerting authorities that their father was using Brook Astor’s own NY estate lawyer to steal her entire $100 million fortune. The investigation revealed that with the help of Astor’s NY estate lawyer, Francis X. Morrissey, Anthony Marshall had Brook sign a will naming him as the sole beneficiary of her estate. This later will which was alleged to be the product of undue influence excluded the $50,000,000.00 bequest slated for Astor’s charities.
When Brook Astor died in 2007, NY will contest lawyers brought that later will under scrutiny. At trial Anthony’s own children’s testimony illustrated a common scheme where Marshall locked his mother away in an apartment with no access to the outside world and subjected her to significant forms of elder abuse. And that while in the custody of Marshall, her own NY estate lawyer, aided Marshall in exerting undue influence over the 103 year old Astor, forcing her to sign the purported document.
While wills are inherently made to withstand judicial scrutiny by design, an expert NY will contest lawyer with the right set of facts can penetrate the near impenetrable attorney drafted will. In the Estate of Brook Astor the NY will contest lawyers were able to knock out the fraudulent instrument. As a result Marshall was made to forfeit $50 million of his $100 million distribution and was sentenced to one to three years in jail. As a result of the NY will contest, Brook Astor’s NY estate lawyer, Francis X. Morrissey, lost his law license and was sentenced to 1-3 years in jail along with Marshall.
In a twist, while remanded to serve his jail sentence, Anthony Marshall drafted his own will excluding his two sons, who testified against him, from his $90 million fortune. The irony here is that for their part in overturning their grandmother’s fraudulent will, Anthony’s sons were then excluded from their own father’s $90 million estate.
Anthony Marshall passed away in 2014 at the age of 90 leaving his entire $90 million fortune to his second wife and her three children. Thus Anthony Marshall’s own distributees, his biological sons, received nothing pursuant to his Last Will & Testament. Although Anthony Marshall passed away from advanced Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease his sons could not hire a NY will contest lawyer to challenge the will for obvious reasons. To show that a will was the product of undue influence rather than the testator’s voluntary act, it must be clear that the outcome was not the intended result by the testator. In this instance it would be nearly impossible for the two sons whose cooperation with authorities lead to their father’s incarceration, to successfully make those arguments. The truth is their cooperation cost their father $50 million whether it was right or wrong and there is no question Anthony Marshall intended to disinherit them.
On one hand it seems justice was served in the overturning of the Astor will and prison sentences for both Anthony Marshall and the NY estate lawyer. However the end result does not seem quite as equitable. Once again, a properly executed NY attorney drafted will is as close to impervious as it gets. And while the facts in Astor’s NY will contest supported the finding of undue influence the facts did not line up that way for Marshall’s sons. Only the most experienced NY will contest lawyers will know the difference between spending five years and hundreds of thousands of dollars litigating a good will contest rather than a bad one.
NY will contests can drag on for years and years often hinging on the smallest of details. Our NY estate litigators are one of only a handful of NY will contest lawyers who have succeeded in overturning fraudulently drafted wills on more than one occasion. Personally I feel that we, especially as NY estate lawyers, have a duty to protect the elderly from predators and to treat them with the dignity and respect they deserve.
If you think a family member may have been taken advantage of by an opportunistic relative or friend it never hurts to ask the opinion of an experienced NY will contest lawyer to see if it amounts to undue influence or fraud. Feel free to call the NY will contest lawyers at The Law Offices of Jason W. Stern & Associates for a free consultation at (718) 261-2444. Our Queens estate lawyers have 50 years of combined NY estate law experience drafting and probating wills for families like yours in the counties of Queens, New York, Kings, Bronx, Westchester, Rockland, Nassau, Orange, Dutchess as well as in the State of New Jersey.