Why do you need an attorney drafted will? Estate of Cornwell

As a NY estate lawyer, I can not emphasise the role of the attorney drafted will as an estate planning tool enough.  The foundation to protect your entire NY estate almost always begins with a NY attorney drafted and supervised will.  As a NY estate lawyer probating and litigating the estates of New Yorkers for nearly 20 years I can tell you this is a certainty.  However, many NY estate clients arrive at our offices with a prior do-it-yourself will they drafted themselves after seeing an advertisement on late night television.  NY estate lawyers secretly love these diabolical marketing campaigns that urge lay people to draft their own testamentary instruments as NY estate lawyers collect hefty legal fees contesting these very wills.

Although it may seem presumptuous to compare the self-drafting of ones will to performing a tonsillectomy on yourself, it is really not that different.  Perhaps litigating the various issues non-attorney drafted instruments raise gives me unique insight as a NY estate lawyer.  For example, any will properly supervised and drafted by a NY estate lawyer is entitled to a presumption of validity within the Courts.  Simply stated, NY attorney drafted and supervised wills are accepted as valid until proven otherwise.  However, no such presumption accompanies non-attorney drafted instruments which are not considered valid until they are so proven making these documents susceptible to attack.  And with often millions of dollars of inheritance at large you can bet there will always be someone to attack these instruments.

Before a will can be admitted to probate and accepted by the Court, it must be shown that its execution was in accordance with the requirements dictated within the Estates, Powers & Trusts Laws (EPTL) §3-2.1.  Now if most attorneys are unfamiliar with all of the statutory requirements of EPTL §3-2.1, how familiar do you suppose a layperson would be with these requirements?  The answer is not very.

Recently, Manhattan native, Bill Cornwell passed away at 88 years old leaving behind his partner of 55 years Tom Doyle and a $7 Million Dollar estate.  Cornwell’s estate is comprised of the iconic brownstone located at 69 Horatio Street in Manhattan’s West Village, as depicted above, where the two resided for nearly 55 years.  While Cornwell and Doyle were never married, Cornwell executed a will leaving Doyle his entire $7 Million Dollar estate, or so he thought.  After all, the brownstone is the place the two called home for nearly six decades.

Unfortunately for Tom Doyle, his partner Mr. Cornwell failed to have an experienced NY estate lawyer draft and execute his will.  Instead William Cornwell, intending to leave his entire estate to his partner of 55 years, decided to take it upon himself to draft and execute his own will.  Sadly, in so doing, Mr. Cornwell had only one witness to his will, EPTL §3-2.1 requires two witnesses, invalidating the will.

Was this a problem for Tom Doyle?  Yes, it was a big problem, a $7 Million Dollar problem.  Pursuant to the NY kinship law, if someone dies without a valid will or a spouse or children, the NY estate is transferred to the decedent’s next of kin.  In this case, William Cornwell had neither a valid will nor a spouse nor a child.  However, Mr. Cornwell does have several nieces and nephews who quickly descended upon their late uncle’s estate.  The nieces and nephews quickly attempted to evict the intended beneficiary from his home and vulture the entire multi-million-dollar estate away from their uncle’s life partner of 55 years.    In the end the nieces and nephews settled their uncle’s estate by agreeing to pay his life partner, Tom Doyle, the intended sole beneficiary of his $7 million dollar estate a meager $250,000.00.

As a NY estate lawyer I hate hearing stories like this because it was not the intended result and was easily avoidable.  If you or a family member are thinking about either planning or litigating an estate it never hurts to ask the opinion of an experienced NY will contest lawyer.  Feel free to call the NY estate lawyers at The Law Offices of Jason W. Stern & Associates for a free consultation at (718) 261-2444. Our Queens estate lawyers have over 50 years of combined NY estate law experience drafting and probating the 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.

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