Legal Memorandum: Summary Judgment in a Contested Probate Action

Issue: Under New York law, what is the standard for granting summary judgment in a contested probate action?

Area of Law: Estate Planning & Probate, Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Summary judgment; Contested probate action; Execution of will, testamentary capacity, undue influence or fraud
Jurisdiction: New York
Cited Cases: 636 N.Y.S.2d 950; 680 N.Y.S.2d 721; 663 N.Y.S.2d 456; 224 A.D.2d 757; 741 N.Y.S.2d 600; 706 N.Y.S.2d 763; 242 A.D.2d 901; 297 A.D.2d 423; 721 N.Y.S.2d 116; 279 A.D.2d 730; 745 N.Y.S.2d 625; 294 A.D.2d 648
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 03/01/2004

            In contested probate proceedings, summary judgment is appropriate when the evidence submitted by the proponent of a will is sufficient to meet his or her burden to establish a prima facie case for probate and the “objectant fails to raise any issues of fact regarding execution of the will, testamentary capacity, undue influence or fraud.”  In re Estate of Dietrich, 271 A.D.2d 894, 894, 706 N.Y.S.2d 763, 764 (3d Dep’t 2000); see In re Estate of Minervini, 297 A.D.2d 423, 424, 745 N.Y.S.2d 625, 626 (3d Dep’t 2002) (“Although summary judgment must be exercised cautiously, it is proper in a contested probate proceeding where the proponent submits evidence establishing a prima facie case for probate and the objectant fails to raise any genuine factual issues.”  (citations omitted)).

Before the Surrogate Court, the proponent has the burden to establish a prima facie case with respect to (1) due execution of the will; (2) testamentary capacity of the testator; and (3) that execution and publication of the will was the testator’s free and voluntary act, not the product of undue influence or fraud.  Once the movant establishes a prima facie case the burden shifts to the party opposing the motion “to come forward with admissible proof in evidentiary form to raise a triable issue of fact.”  Chase Auto. Fin. Corp. v, Allstate Ins. Co., 280 A.D.2d 761, 762, 721 N.Y.S.2d 116, 118 (3d Dep’t 2001).  N.Y. EPTL 3-2.1 sets out three separate ways […]

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