Monday, January 28, 2019
The elective share statute of New York is intended to provide a decedent’s surviving spouse with a minimum amount of the deceased spouse's estate. There are certain, enumerated actions within the statute that can cause a surviving spouse to lose their entitlement to an elective share. The Surrogate’s and Appellate Courts have crafted a further ground for forfeiture when equity so requires. This was the result in a recent case, Matter of Beck.
The Court framed three issues to be heard, lodged principally in whether the decedent possessed the requisite mental capacity to marry the petitioner. It was found that there was plenty of credible evidence questioning the decedent's capacity to enter into a marriage contract, including his inability to accurately fill out the marriage license the day before he was to be married to the petitioner. A photograph that had been taken on his wedding day in which the decedent appeared dazed and confused.
The standard for mental capacity for entering into a marriage is that both parties fully understand the nature, effect, and consequences of their actions. The court found that the decedent was incapable of understanding or consenting to his marriage to the petitioner, and that the petitioner was well aware of his incapacity at the time. The petitioner had been the decedent's primary caretaker and had experience in the medical field, thus invalidating the defense that petitioner was not aware of the decedent's incapacitation.
After considering the secrecy of the marriage, the control petitioner had over the day-to-day activities of the decedent, and other evidence in the same vein, the court concluded petitioner had exercised undue influence over the decedent and denied the petitioner's request for an elective share of decedent's estate.
See Ilene Cooper, Wrongdoer Deprived of Elective Share, New York Trusts & Estates Litigation Blog, January 23, 2019.
Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse (Professional Legal Marketing (PLM, Inc.) for bringing this article to my attention.