Who has standing to contest a NY will? Estate of Conrad Prebys

As a NY estate lawyer with more than two decades of experience probating and litigating wills on behalf of New Yorkers and their families we know a lot about challenging a NY will and the pitfalls that accompany these cases .  Let me start by saying one of the most difficult undertakings in all of law is contesting a NY attorney drafted and supervised will.  By design the Last Will & Testament is meant to stand up to the Court’s scrutiny even if the testator was in a diminished capacity on his death bed.  It is no accident that the NY estate law requires less mental capacity to execute a NY will than any other legal document.  In fact more that 90% of NY will contests are dismissed on summary judgment meaning the objectant to the NY will’s case will be dismissed years before they ever see a trial based on a lack of a genuine issue of fact or evidence. But before a contestant to a NY will can even make it to this point the contestant must have standing.  

Pursuant to the NY estate law before you may even contest a NY will the Court must find the potential objectant to be an interested person.  In order to be an interested person you must bear some pecuniary or financial loss due to the existence of the NY will.  According to the SCPA §1410 of the NY estate law any distributee, next of kin, of the decedent, or beneficiary of a prior will, whose interest is adversely affected by admission of the most recent NY will to probate, may have standing to file objections to the NY will.

In Matter of Haddock,  22 Misc. 2d 694 (Nass. Surr. Crt. 1960),  the court found that the children of the decedent who intended to contest their mother’s NY will lacked standing.  In Haddock, the Court stated that each child would have been entitled to a 25% share of their mother’s intestate estate absent the NY will.   However pursuant to the NY will each of the two objecting parties, children of the decedent, were receiving 33% of their mother’s estate, a share greater than that which they would receive if the NY will was invalidated.  Therefore, neither of the objecting parties possess the legal standing to contest the NY will as neither bears a financial loss under the instrument and their objections were dismissed accordingly. 

Conrad Prebys was a successful San Diego real estate developer who passed away in 2016 with an estate valued at $1 billion dollars.  Conrad’s only heir was a son named Eric who is a physicist at The University of California.   Eric was supposed to receive a $40 million dollar distribution from his father’s estate until 2014.  In 2014 Prebys inexplicably rewrote his testamentary plan to instead exclude Eric from his estate completely.

During his lifetime Prebys had become a large philanthropist donating more than $350 million dollars to different charitable organizations such as the San Diego Zoo and San Diego State University.  It was his wish to set up a foundation after his passing to leave almost all of his estate to fund various institutions and interests from medical research to education.  Two months after Prebys’s passing from cancer his foundation received a notice from Eric’s lawyer intending to contest the testamentary plan that excluded him based on testamentary capacity.  The Foundation’s directors then settled with Prebys’s son Eric for $15 million dollars to avoid the contesting of the Prebys’s Estate.

Debra Turner, Prebys’s longtime partner of 17 years, the two were never married, brought a lawsuit seeking reimbursement of the $15 million dollar settlement to the Prebys Estate from the directors.  Turner claimed that the directors acted unilaterally in settling this matter with Eric, Prebys’s son who was disinherited.  However the Court recently dismissed Turner’s case stating that she lacked standing to contest this settlement as she was neither a distributee of the decedent nor was she adversely affected by the decedent’s estate plan.  

If you are thinking about contesting a will or that a loved one 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.  Feel free to call the NYC will contest lawyers at The Law Offices of Jason W. Stern & Associates for a free consultation at (718) 261-2444. Our NYC will contest lawyers have more than 60 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, and Dutchess.

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