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]
Krowe v. Todd, AAA Case No. 01-18-0000-4009
Commercial Litigation – Arbitration/Mediation
Our Commercial Litigation lawyers represent clients in arbitration before the American Arbitration Association. James K. Landau and Irma K. Nimetz successfully represented a business owner in a dispute with the other member of a closely held limited liability company. Here, our client commenced an arbitration through the American Arbitration Association seeking damages on theories of breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing and seeking an accounting and the imposition of a constructive trust based on certain alleged unauthorized use of company funds by the respondent. After the respondent interposed counterclaims and moved for summary judgment, a settlement favorable to our client was obtained in mediation.
Probate Proceedings – Complicated Uncontested Will
Trusts & Estates– Probate Proceedings – Complicated Uncontested Will
Not all probate proceedings are created equal. In 2018, after taking over from prior counsel, Michael S. Kutzin succeeded in having a will admitted to probate that clerks in the New York County Surrogate’s Court referred to as one of the most complex uncontested matters that they had seen. In that case, the decedent, who was unmarried and had no children, had filed a prior will in the court which had a series of unusual provisions, including a trust for the benefit of first cousins once removed living in Ireland and England. She also had a large extended family in the United States and abroad. To complicate matters further, numerous beneficiaries and interested parties died after the decedent did but before the will was admitted to probate, making the probate particularly difficult. Nevertheless, through hard work and determination, Michael succeeded in having the will admitted to probate.
Mamaroneck Coastal Environmental Coalition v. Village of Mamaroneck Board of Appeals ___ A.D. 3d __ (2d Dep’t July 26, 2017).
Developing a proper record and articulating detailed findings are the keys for our Municipal Law & Land Use lawyers to successfully defending local land use board decision making, both in the lower court and in the appellate court. Here, Petitioner brought an Article 78 proceeding challenging the ZBA’s determination to grant a special permit to the Hampshire Club to conduct nonmember events on its property as arbitrary, capricious and contrary to law. Representing the ZBA, Lester D. Steinman and Anna L. Georgiou successfully argued that the ZBA’s determination was rationally based and supported by substantial evidence in the record. The Supreme Court, Westchester County, (Jamieson, J.S.C.) agreed dismissing the Article 78 proceeding. On appeal, the Supreme Court’s determination was affirmed by the Appellate Division, Second Department.[Read in full]
1216 Henry Avenue LLC v. Village of Mamaroneck Planning Board (Sup. Ct,, Westchester Co. February 7, 2017)
Municipal Law & Land Use – SEQRA – Conditioned Negative Declaration
Knowledge of the intricacies of the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) is a vital asset of our Municipal Law & Land Use in defending local government land use board decisions against environmental challenges. Here, Petitioner filed an Article 78 proceeding challenging certain aspects of a Conditioned Negative Declaration (“CND”) adopted by the Planning Board under SEQRA in connection with its review of a three lot subdivision application. Representing the Planning Board, Lester D. Steinman moved to dismiss the litigation on the grounds that, in the absence of a determination on the merits of the underlying subdivision application, the challenge to the CND was premature. The Supreme Court, (Minihan, A.J.S.C.), agreed and dismissed the proceeding.[Read in full]
Mamaroneck Ices, Inc. v. Village of Mamaroneck Zoning Board of Appeals (Sup. Ct., Westchester Co.; August 9, 2016)
Our Municipal Law & Land Use lawyers sometimes oppose injunctive relief applications by private entities who seek to stay the effectiveness of determinations by land use boards. To prevail in such litigation, familiarity with the prerequisites for injunctive relief – irreparable harm, likelihood of success on the merits and the balancing of the equities – is imperative. Here, the Petitioner sought to enjoin the effectiveness of a ZBA resolution which revoked the Petitioner’s certificate of occupancy to operate an ice cream store but stayed that revocation pending Petitioner obtaining special permit and site plan approval and otherwise reducing the hours of operation pending the receipt of those approvals. Representing the ZBA, Lester D. Steinman persuaded the Court to deny the injunctive relief on the grounds of Petitioner’s failure to show irreparable harm and a balance of the equities in its favor.[Read in full]
Our Municipal Law & Land Use lawyers know that attention to procedural details is critical for the exercise of municipal rights. Here, the Appellant challenged the Village of Scarsdale’s in rem tax foreclosure proceedings on the basis of, among other things, inadequate notice. Representing the village, Daniel Pozin and Lester D. Steinman, as special counsel to the village, persuaded the Appellate Division, Second Department, that the Appellant’s arguments were wrong, and the Second Department dismissing the appeal and the case.[Read in full]
Surrogate’s Court Litigation – Charitable Gift Annuities – Defense Against an Executor’s Claim to Decedent’s Gift
Our Surrogate’s Court Litigation lawyers sometime represent beneficiaries seeking to carry out a decedent’s intention as to gifts made to the client during the decedent’s lifetime. Here, Frank W. Streng successfully represented a client who was a successor beneficiary of a charitable gift annuity established by the decedent with Fordham University, against a claim brought against her by the executor of the decedent’s estate. The issue in the case was that the decedent, while fully competent at the time that he met with Fordham representatives and in the transfer of assets to fund the annuity, was hospitalized shortly thereafter and died in the hospital. The estate argued that the gift should be set aside because the decedent did not personally sign an annuity agreement sent to him by Fordham during his hospitalization. The Surrogate’s Court agreed with Frank and Fordham’s counsel, who sought and obtained summary judgment to dismiss the estate’s efforts to set aside the charitable gift. They argued, and the Court agreed, that the agreement to establish the gift annuity was fully enforceable well before the decedent was presented with the formal written agreement.[Read in full]
Berkson & Walisever v. Assessor of Town of Scarsdale, Westchester (SCAR Index# 3385/14)
Tax Certiorari & Condemnation – Small Claims Assessment Review (SCAR) – Reduced Assessment on Highly-Valued Property
Our Tax Certiorari & Condemnation lawyers understand that, in Westchester, highly-valued properties sometimes brings on excessive tax assessment. Here, Stephen Davis, on behalf of the owners of one of the highest valued one-family residences in Scarsdale, tried the Small Claims Assessment Review (SCAR) proceeding contesting the Assessor’s assertion of a $9,679,700 value. SCAR limits assessment reduction to 25% of the contested assessed value. Steve achieved the maximum permitted reduction, obtaining after trial a revised assessment of $7,259,775. The Court Hearing Officer rejecting the Town’s assertion of greatly added value attributed to the basketball half-court located in the basement. He did so, perhaps on the basis of Steve’s observation at trial of the court’s suitability for no more than free-throws and lay-ups.