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The Supreme Court's Appellate Division recently upheld New York County Surrogate Nora Anderson's decision in the probate proceeding of Rosalin E. Melnick 942 N.Y.S.2D 45 (A.D. 1Dept 2012) [enhanced version available to lexis.com subscribers] which denied a petitioner's motion to dismiss objections to the probate of the will where the objectant had already signed a release. The court held that the language of the release was "not clear and unambiguous waiver and that the legatee did not therefore relinquish his statutory right to file validity objections"
In this matter, the language of the release imposed two conditions, using the word "if" so that there would be no release if the value of the objectant's total inheritance was not limited by the will to $35,000 and that it needed to be established that the will was the decedent's valid will. Noting a well-settled legal principal that ambiguities are always construed against the drafter of a document, the court went on to find that the use of the word "if" created sufficient ambiguity in the release document to warrant denial of petitioner's motion for summary judgment and to rule that the objecting legatee did not relinquish his right to file validity objections, even though he had accepted an advancement. To this end, the court went on to opine that although "a person who prospectively waives all int4rest in a future estate .... may not file objections to the probate of a will", any such waiver "must be clear and unequivocal" and " such waivers are to be narrowly interpreted"
View more from the New York Probate Litigation Blog.
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