Guardianship Practice – Adult Guardianship – Court Appointed Counsel in Complex Ongoing Guardianship Matter
Lawyers at McCarthy Fingar are often sought out by courts or other attorneys to handle the most difficult guardianship cases. In Matter of AMH, the disgruntled son of nonagenarian AMH, who had not seen his mother for more than 4 years, created turmoil for many years for her and her guardians. At the request of AMH’s court appointed counsel, the lower court appointed McCarthy Fingar partner, Michael S. Kutzin, as litigation counsel to spearhead AMH’s efforts to reduce her Personal Needs Guardian’s powers reduced and to reinstate the health care proxy that AMH had given in 2015 to her daughter (a physician). The 2015 health care proxy had been voided by the lower court because the daughter and AMH’s health care proxy had not been able to work together, but by the time AMH’s application was filed, the daughter and the Personal Needs Guardian had worked well together for a number of years. The son was very litigious: he not only opposed this requested relief, but filed his own application to remove AMH’s longtime counsel, remove the Personal Needs Guardian and to have visitation restrictions (which had been imposed because of his misconduct) lifted. The son also sought to have the lower court compel AMH to testify, even though AMH suffered from health threatening stress when dealing with conflict. After multiple motions and a four-day hearing, Mr. Kutzin and his co-counsel obtained the requested relief for AMH; and the lower court denied everything requested by the son. The son’s litigious efforts continued in the Appellate Division, First Department, where he filed three separate appeals and multiple motions, but to no avail. Mr. Kutzin, leading the efforts in the Appellate Division, persuaded the Appellate Division to uphold the lower court’s decision.[Read in full]
Matter of Burrows, 192 A.D.3d 1485 (4th Dep’t 2021)
McCarthy Fingar’s Surrogate’s Court Litigation lawyers represent clients in all phases of litigation on trusts and estates matters, including proceedings seeking the appointment or replacement of trustees of living or testamentary trusts. In Matter of Burrows, Robert H. Rosh and Howell Bramson, representing the preliminary executors of the decedent’s estate, won on summary judgment a proceeding in which their clients sought the appointment of a successor co-trustee of a multi-million dollar, living (grantor) trust (the “Trust”). On appeal, the Appellate Division, Fourth Judicial Department, unanimously affirmed the Surrogate’s Court decision and order granting our clients’ summary judgment motion.
On their summary judgment motion, Rosh and Bramson established that the trust instrument required that the Trust be administered by two (2) trustees, but that, through deposition testimony and documentary evidence, the sole surviving co-trustee of the Trust was unfit to administer the Trust without the assistance of a co-trustee. In finding that the surviving co-trustee was unfit, the Surrogate’s Court found that the surviving co-trustee had failed to comply with various terms of the trust instrument, and had improperly delegated his fiduciary duties thereunder to another individual for years after the resignation of the original co-trustee of the Trust. The Surrogate’s Court consequently concluded that “[g]iven [the surviving co-trustee’s] less than adequate interest/ability to solely administer the Trust[,] together with the nature and language of the Trust, . . . two trustees (co-trustees) [were] necessary.” In granting our motion, the Surrogate’s Court further pointed out, and found, that the surviving co-trustee’s counsel’s argument that the proceeding was barred under the doctrine of res judicata, was without merit.
Guardianship Practice – Guardianship of Adult Child – Dispute Between Divorced Parents
McCarthy Fingar lawyers represent clients in the most difficult guardianship cases, including disputes over a guardianship of an adult child. While most people understand issues involving the care and custody of children is often front-and-center in a divorce case, sometimes even adult children with disabilities become collateral damage of a divorce as parents battle over guardianship of an adult child. This can happen for myriad reasons, including where well-meaning but ill-advised parents have a different vision for what kind of care the disabled child should receive. In Matter of A.A. v. A., Michael S. Kutzin, a partner of the firm whose areas of concentration include guardianship and Trusts & Estates, represented, on a pro bono basis, the mother of an incapacitated child in the appeal to the Appellate Division, First Department, of a lower court decision in which, after a divorce, the mother had been named the guardian for her daughter, J.A. The father had fought to become his daughter’s guardian and appealed the lower court decision, arguing that the daughter’s incapacity was brought on by the anti-psychotic medication that she was taking. The father further argues that he should have the right to take his daughter to a physician of his own choice, in his effort to demonstrate that it was the medicines that caused her illness. The mother, who had already prevailed in Family Court against such allegations when she obtained custody while the child was a minor, was named guardian in the lower court proceeding. Michael succeeded in having the father’s appeal denied on the grounds that the lower court had properly exercised its discretion in naming the mother as guardian and that he had no independent right to have his adult child brought to a physician of his choice to prove his case. The First Department uphold the lower court decision, finding that the mother “had been diligently caring for [the daughter] for years and appropriately attended to her needs, and the absence of any evidence supporting plaintiff’s claims of improper medical treatment . . . “[Read in full]
McCarthy Fingar’s Surrogate’s Court Litigation lawyers represent clients in Will and Trust Contests. In Matter of Burrows, Robert H. Rosh and Howell Bramson represented the decedent’s surviving spouse and the decedent’s financial advisor, as preliminary executors of the decedent’s estate and trustees of a revocable trust, in a will contest and a parallel proceeding that was brought by the decedent’s minor children from a prior marriage (through the children’s court appointed guardian ad litem and natural guardian), to set aside a revocable trust. The decedent’s children, through their guardians, argued that the decedent’s surviving spouse exerted undue influence upon decedent in connection with the making and execution of the decedent’s will and revocable trust, and that the decedent lacked the capacity to execute the disputed instruments. Through their guardians, the children moved for summary judgment, and Robert, on behalf of the proponents of the decedent’s will and trustees of the trust, cross-moved for summary judgment. On that cross-motion, Robert demonstrated, through voluminous documentary and testimonial evidence, that the decedent was cognitively alert, oriented, and otherwise fit and able to execute the disputed instruments, and that the instruments were not the product of undue influence or duress. The evidence included the following: deposition testimony of: (a) the decedent’s financial advisor; (b), the decedent’s personal chef; (c) the decedent’s lawyer; (d) the decedent’s accountant; and (e) the decedent’s heath care providers, including the decedent’s treating physician and nurse, Robert also showed that the decedent’s Will was consistent with the decedent’s testamentary plan (as shown by multiple prior wills that had been made by the decedent), and that the objectant-children had no basis to complain, having been made beneficiaries under a prior trust that had been established by the decedent, having a value of approximately $30,000,000. The decedent’s will was consequently admitted to probate, and the revocable trust was found to be valid and enforceable in all respects.[Read in full]
McCarthy Fingar represents a diverse collection of clients, including municipal and governmental entities. Here, McCarthy Fingar’s interdisciplinary team of litigators, which included James K. Landau, Edward P. Borrelli and Frank W. Streng, succeeded in defeating an attempt by a neighboring landowner to intervene and obtained a dismissal of a petition filed by the firm on behalf of its client, the County of Westchester. By the petition, the County seeks to modify or extinguish certain restrictions on the use of Merestead, 130 acres of property donated to the County so that Merestead can better carry out the original intentions of the family that donated the property for various uses, including as a park. The Supreme Court, Westchester County, denied the neighboring landowner’s motion, and the landowner appealed to the Appellate Division, Second Department. The Second Department unanimously affirmed the decision of the motion court, agreeing that the motion to intervene was fatally defective because the neighboring landowner did not submit a proposed pleading with their motion. The Second Department also agreed with the motion court’s decision denying the motion without leave to renew on proper papers “since the proposed intervenors failed to show a real and substantial interest in the outcome of the proceeding.”[Read in full]
AAA Carting and Rubbish Removal, Inc. v. Village of Pelham, ___ Misc. 3d ___ (Sup. Ct., Westchester 2020)
Municipal Law & Land Use – Article 78 Proceedings – Unsuccessful Bidders
McCarthy Fingar’s municipal attorneys often defend their municipal clients against Article 78 proceedings brought by private individuals and companies. Article 78 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules is frequently used to challenge decisions made by municipalities when a private party feels aggrieved by a decision made by a governmental entity. Here, James K. Landau, Clinton Smith and Lester Steinman obtained the dismissal of just such a proceeding against the Village of Pelham, commenced by an unsuccessful bidder for a garbage hauling contract who was found by the Village not to be a responsible bidder under the General Municipal Law. In dismissing the petition, the Supreme Court, Westchester County, determined that the Village had demonstrated 7 different ways that it rationally determined the unsuccessful bidder to not be responsible.[Read in full]
Transfers of assets using a power of attorney often lead to conflict. The question is whether the transfer by the agent under the power of attorney was in the best interests of the principal. In Matter of Argondizza, 168 A.D.3d 426 (1st Dep’t 2019), Michael S. Kutzin succeeded in having the Appellate Division uphold the Surrogate’s Court in dismissing the claim brought by two children in a property turnover proceeding against their stepfather. Here, the Surrogate’s Court rejected the argument that the stepfather breached his fiduciary duties when, as an agent under a power of attorney, he transferred a co-op he co-owned with his wife into his own name. In this case, the decedent had told her treating physician that it was her desire that the co-op be transferred into her husband’s name, the transfer was being done in order to obtain eligibility for Medicaid coverage of long term care, and the children were aware of and took part in the transfers.[Read in full]
McCarthy Fingar’s Surrogate’s Court litigators sometimes represent clients in will construction proceedings, sometimes involving the issue of ademption. In Matter of Wechsler, Frank W. Streng and Irma K. Nimetz represented a sister and brother in a will construction proceeding in Surrogate’s Court, Rockland County, against three of their siblings concerning a provision in their mother’s will with respect to two New York City taxi medallions, which their mother distributed unequally amongst her 13 surviving children and 40 grandchildren. Despite the inclusion of the taxi medallions in her will, the mother sold both taxi medallions during her lifetime. The net proceeds of the sale of the taxi medallions were held in a joint bank account in the name of the mother and one of her daughters. Frank and Irma successfully argued that the lifetime sale of the taxi medallions caused an ademption of the mother’s specific bequest of the taxi medallions. Ademption occurs when a specific bequest, here, the taxi medallions, does not exist at the time of the testator’s death because it was sold, lost or destroyed. Because the mother’s will did not address the possibility of a sale of the taxi medallions before she died, Frank and Irma argued that the bequest of the taxi medallions adeemed, and the proceeds of the sale should be distributed in equal shares to the mother’s children under the residuary clause of her will. The Surrogate’s Court ruled that Frank and Irma, on behalf of their clients, established that the law of ademption applied, and granted summary judgment in favor of the firm’s clients ruling that the bequest of the taxi medallions adeemed. The court also rejected the argument that one of McCarthy Fingar’s clients exercised undue influence to cause the sale of the medallions prior to the decedent’s death.[Read in full]
McCarthy Fingar’s lawyers represent clients in all types of will contests, including cases in which a will not signed at the end was offered for probate. In Matter of Francesca Morris, two of our Surrogate’s Court litigators, Frank W. Streng and Irma K. Nimetz, represented a deceased father’s three adult children, who challenged a propounded instrument purporting to be the last will & testament of Francesca Morris, their grandmother. Francesca Morris had two children, a son who predeceased his mother and was survived by our clients, and a daughter, the aunt of our clients. The aunt filed an amended probate petition seeking to probate a propounded instrument pursuant to which the decedent/her mother bequeathed her entire estate to her daughter. Under a prior will, the decedent bequeathed her estate equally between her daughter and her son. Frank and Irma made a motion to dismiss the amended probate petition on the grounds that the propounded instrument was not executed in accordance with the strict statutory formalities required by the law, specifically New York’s Estates, Powers and Trusts Law (“EPTL”) § 3-2.1(a)(1). Frank and Irma argued that the testator, Francesca Morris, never signed the purported will “at the end of thereof” as required by law. Instead, at the will execution, which was not supervised by an attorney, a notary public signed the purported will where the testator was supposed to sign. As Frank and Irma asserted in their motion to dismiss, the testator only placed her initials on a self proving affidavit, which is not an integral part of the propounded instrument. The Court agreed with Frank and Irma, and denied probate. The Court ruled that the decedent’s initials, appearing solely on the self proving affidavit, did not constitute a signature “at the end” of the propounded instrument and failed to satisfy the statutory requirements of EPTL § 3-2.1 as a matter of law. The Court granted Frank and Irma’s motion to dismiss the amended probate petition pursuant to CPLR Rule 3211 (a) (1) and (7).[Read in full]
As part of our firm’s representation of clients in will contests, battles sometimes take place on applications for preliminary letters testamentary at the inception of the probate proceeding, that determines who shall administer the estate during the will contest. In Matter of Elinor J. Haight, Frank W. Streng and Irma K. Nimetz represented the sole nominated executor under her deceased mother’s codicil, dated March 10, 2015, and will, dated February 13, 2002. Both the codicil and the will were drafted by attorneys, who supervised the execution of the instruments. Our client’s mother named her daughter, as the sole executor in her 2015 codicil. In her earlier will, the mother nominated her daughter and her two sons, our client’s brothers, as co-executors. Frank and Irma filed an application for preliminary letters testamentary on behalf of their client in a contested probate proceeding. The two brothers opposed our client’s application for preliminary letters and asked the Court to deny our client’s application entirely, or to appoint one or both of them to serve as co-preliminary executor(s) arguing, among other things, that the codicil was procured by undue influence, duress and fraud. Frank and Irma argued that the Court should issue preliminary letters to their client pursuant to the well settled law under SCPA § 1412(2)(a), and reject the brothers’ unsubstantiated and conclusory allegations. Frank and Irma pointed out that by awarding preliminary letters to their client, the sole nominated executor, the Court would be honoring the testator’s preference in choosing the fiduciary and would enable the estate to be immediately administered since there may be a delay in probate. The Court agreed and awarded preliminary letters testamentary to the sole nominated executor, the firm’s client.[Read in full]