Tuesday, March 12, 2013

In re Snide case brief

In re Snide case brief summary
52 N.Y.2d 193

SYNOPSIS: Appellant wife submitted her husband's will for probate. Respondent guardian ad litem contested the will, asserting that the husband had lacked the required testamentary intent. The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court (New York) reversed the trial court's decree that the will could be admitted. The wife challenged the appellate court's decision.

FACTS: The husband and wife executed identical wills at the same time. By mistake each signed the other's will. The trial court decreed that the husband's will could be admitted for probate and reformed it to substitute the husband's name wherever the wife's name appeared. The guardian ad litem for the minor child asserted that the husband had lacked the required testamentary intent.

Upon review, the court held that the husband's will should have been admitted for probate because: (1) although the husband mistakenly signed the will prepared for the wife, the dispositive provisions in both wills were identical; (2) the significance of the only variance between the two instruments was fully explained; (3) the will was undoubtedly genuine; and (4) the will was executed in the manner required by N.Y. Est. Powers & Trusts Law § 3-2.1.

Where identical mutual wills are simultaneously executed with statutory finality, one of them may be admitted to probate even though both parties mistakenly signed the others will.

OUTCOME: The court reversed and remanded the order from the appellate court that declined to admit the husband's will for probate.

In most cases, relief has been denied in cases involving mutual wills that are mistakenly signed by the wrong testator. Relief was only granted in a few cases where the court believed that great frustration would occur if the obvious mistake was not corrected.

In re Snide (N.Y. 1981) [29 CB 223]: Husband and wife mistakenly signed each others’ mutual wills.  Rule: Although each signed wrong will, it’s very important that the wills had identical dispositive provisions.  Each will is a part of a testamentary scheme that can be understood only by looking outside the will; the lower court was correct to reform each will appropriately to correct the mistake.
a.   On identical facts to Pavlinko’s Estate, court comes out differently by substituting names to effect testamentary intent rather than enforce rigid formalities
b.   Court makes clear that it can do so only after it’s satisfied there’s no fraud

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