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The Comprehensive Counsel You Need In Surrogate’s Court Litigation

For the complexities of a surrogate’s court, you will need the wise counsel of New York estate litigators like ours. At DeCandido & Azachi, PLLC, our adept litigators tackle a variety of disputes in surrogate’s court, including will contests, accounting proceedings and kinship hearings.

Our law firm has been a staple of the legal community of Queens, Kings and Nassau County for years. Our lawyers have appeared in surrogate’s courts across New York state, including weekly appearances before the surrogate of Queens County. We have developed a reputation during our careers as strong advocates for our clients’ interests.

What Is Surrogate’s Court?

When a loved one passes away, their estate plan outlines how to divide their assets. However, disputes can arise. Beneficiaries might question the validity of estate documents, or executors could be accused of mismanaging estate assets. Surrogate’s court is a specialized court handling matters related to the affairs of deceased individuals, including the validation of wills and the distribution of estates.

The court serves specific jurisdictions, handling cases for residents of the area it covers. In New York, each county has its own Surrogate’s Court, including one for Queens County, where our firm frequently represents clients. These courts ensure that the administration of a deceased person’s estate is conducted lawfully and in accordance with their wishes.

What Matters Are Litigated In Surrogate’s Court?

The purpose of an estate plan is to clearly articulate the decedent’s wishes when it comes to distributing their remaining assets. There are situations where some beneficiaries may allege discrepancies in some estate planning documents. Executors may receive accusations that they breached their fiduciary duties when distributing the estate’s assets. Our seasoned litigators have resolved a broad range of disputes in surrogate’s court, including the following three matters.

Will Contests

Some beneficiaries may believe that the decedent’s will does not accurately reflect their desires. There may be allegations of duress, lack of mental capacity or undue influence. Our attorneys have worked with all sides in will contest proceedings to analyze the facts and determine the best course of action to achieve your goals in surrogate’s court.

Accounting Contests

Accounting in the context of an estate means detailing the financial activities an executor undertakes. This includes tracking the estate’s assets, paying off debts and allocating inheritances. An example would be an executor reporting the sale of a property and the settlement of outstanding bills before distributing the remaining funds to the beneficiaries.

Executors have an important role to play when administering an estate. During the estate settlement process, executors will prepare an accounting of the assets they received, debts they paid and assets they distributed. Some beneficiaries may contest the accounting proceeding if they notice something may be wrong. Our attorneys have worked with both beneficiaries and executors. We will help you effectively prepare for your contested accounting hearings.

Kinship Hearings

Kinship refers to the familial relationship between an individual and the decedent. In kinship hearings, someone claiming a share of an estate without a direct heir must establish their familial connection. For instance, a cousin may present a family tree and birth certificates to prove their relation to the deceased and claim their inheritance.

When a decedent has no direct survivors, the estate may pass on to a more distant relative. In these situations, the beneficiary may need to prove their kinship to the decedent to receive their inheritance. When establishing kinship, you may need to reconstruct a family tree, provide birth or marriage records, or obtain testimony from neutral third parties.

FAQs About Estate Contests In New York

If you believe a will is invalid or unfair, do not let the legal complexities weigh you down. Here are some answers to many of the questions we hear:

What is the difference between contesting a will and contesting a trust?

Both may sound like similar legal processes but with some key differences. A will outlines how a person’s assets and property can be distributed after their death. Contesting a will involves challenging its validity based on factors like lack of mental capacity, undue influence, fraud or improper execution.

Contesting a trust, on the other hand, involves challenging the administration or terms of a revocable living trust during the settlor’s lifetime or after their death. Grounds for contesting a trust can include lack of capacity, undue influence, mistakes in the trust document or breach of fiduciary duty by the trustee.

Can I contest a will if I wasn’t included?

In New York, you generally must be an “interested party” to contest a will. This usually means you are named as a beneficiary in the will or would inherit under New York’s intestacy laws if the will were invalid. However, some legal exceptions, such as a child being unintentionally left out of the will, may allow a party not named in the will to contest based on the grounds alleged.

Is it possible to contest only one part of a will?

It is possible to contest specific provisions or portions of a will rather than the entire document upon meeting the legal grounds for contesting a will. This is known as a partial will contest. For example, you may only object to how certain assets were distributed or try to remove a particular beneficiary while accepting the remainder of the will’s terms.

What is the “no-contest clause” in New York?

A no-contest clause is a legal provision in a will that aims to prevent beneficiaries from challenging the will in exchange for receiving their inheritance. New York courts can enforce no-contest clauses unless the challenger can demonstrate probable cause for bringing the contest.

The Probate Litigation Experience Needed To Be Effective

Our estate law attorneys understand how to resolve these disputes as efficiently as possible. We have extensive experience providing strategic representation for executors, trustees and beneficiaries who are involved in surrogate’s court litigation. We pride ourselves on resolving these disputes swiftly and effectively. Through our strong advocacy, we make sure to safeguard your interests.

A Queens Surrogate’s Court Attorney Who Will Advocate For You

DeCandido & Azachi, PLLC, can serve you with all issues related to litigation and surrogate’s court. Schedule a free initial consultation in our Forest Hills office by calling 718-690-7715 or by sending our team an email.