Ex-Father In Law Wins in Will Dispute

probate property disupteIn a case called the Matter of the Estate of Robyn Lewis, a woman died at the age of 43. Her death was related to her being an alcoholic. The decedent, Robyn Lewis, had a will prepared in 1996. The will named her husband at the time, James A. Simmons, the sole and exclusive beneficiary. Under the terms of the will, if her husband pre-deceased her, his inheritance rights were to be transferred to his father James R. Simmons (her father-in-law).

Ms. Lewis and her husband were residing in Texas in 2007. She brought her divorce proceeding in that State. Lewis was an alcoholic and was advised by her physicians if she didn’t cease drinking, she could die within six months. Lewis died three years later in 2010, due to complications related to her alcohol addiction. At the time of her death she had one valuable asset. This asset was property located in Clayton, New York. This property had been in her family for several generations. While she was married to Simmons, they had purchased the property for $200,000 from her mother and uncle.

Fight Over the Clayton, New York Property

After Lewis’ death, there was litigation concerning who was the appropriate person to inherit the property in Clayton, New York. Ms. Lewis’ father-in-law’s attorneys argued under New York State law the entry of a judgment of divorce revokes a decedent’s bequest to a former spouse. Unfortunately, in this case, if Simmons is unable to inherit from his deceased ex-wife, the alternate beneficiary was Simmons’ father, the decedent’s father-in-law.

The possibility the property would be inherited by the ex-husband’s father leads one to believe the ex-husband would ultimately inherit the property as a beneficiary of his father.

estate planning on long islandPeter Schwerzmann, the Surrogate of Jefferson County, held the father-in-law was entitled to inherit the property. The Appellate Division of the Fourth Department (an appeals court), affirmed the decision. The case may be taken to the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court, for review.