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"Vacatur" - Contesting the validity of a Will even after its admission to Probate.

As many clients, or potential clients, may know, it is uncommon for a Court to find that a Will is invalid after it has already been admitted to Probate. However, in limited circumstances, the New York Surrogate's Court has the power and authority to deem a Will that have already been admitted to Probate as invalid, "vacate" its own Decree, and allow a party to contest the Probate of the very Will that the Court had previously determined was proper.

To that end, there are four basic grounds upon which an interested party with legal rights (or "standing") can contest or oppose a Will being admitted to Probate. The interested party can argue that the Decedent did not have the required "Testamentary Capacity"1 to make a Will; that the Will was not "Duly Executed;" that the Will was the product of "Fraud and/or Duress;" and/or that the Will was the product of "Undue Influence."2

In the event that there is consent from all of the necessary and interested parties, and/or there is no proof that a Will suffers from any of these infirmities, the Surrogate will issue a Decree "admitting the Will to Probate."

Nevertheless, sometimes, after a Will is "admitted to Probate," an interested party later believes that the Will was in fact invalid, and should not have been "admitted to Probate."

When this occurs, the Court typically refuses to re-open litigation regarding the validity of the Will, and allow an interested party to Contest the Will's admission to Probate given that the interested party has either affirmatively consented to the Will being "admitted to Probate," or could not produce proof - or evidence in "admissible form" - to show that the Will should not have been "admitted to Probate" during a "Contested Probate" or "Will Contest Proceeding." 

Nevertheless, sometimes, after a Will is "admitted to Probate," an interested party later believes that the Will was in fact invalid, and should not have been "admitted to Probate."

When this occurs, the Court typically refuses to re-open litigation regarding the validity of the Will, and allow an interested party to Contest the Will's admission to Probate given that the interested party has either affirmatively consented to the Will being "admitted to Probate," or could not produce proof - or evidence in "admissible form" - to show that the Will should not have been "admitted to Probate" during a "Contested Probate" or "Will Contest Proceeding." 

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1 "Capacity" issues most often involve cognitive medical infirmities which interfere with the ability to make a will.
2 Often times "undue influence" is engaged in by a family member, or companion to the deceased, to gain advantage in the division of an Estate.

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