Woman's $100,000 Bequest to Her Cat Is Upheld

, New York Law Journal


Justice Egan

Emerson testified that Stafford changed her will in August 2007 to demonstrate her commitment to historical preservation and also because she complained that her nephews' "heart[s]" are "in their pocketbooks," according to the ruling.

Stafford had diabetes and high blood pressure. She suffered a stroke in October 2009 and died at age 91 in July 2010. Her nephews were her three closest surviving relatives.

The nephews objected to the will after it was offered for probate, arguing at a hearing under §1404 of the Surrogate's Court Procedure Act in October and November 2010 that Charlotte Stafford was under the undue influence of House.

But Surrogate Judge William Ames granted summary judgment dismissing the nephews' objections in a May 2012 ruling, finding that since there was no motive, the allegation of undue influence could not be sustained. The Third Department affirmed Ames' ruling in its Nov. 27 determination.

See Appellants' Brief, Respondent's Brief, and Appellants' Reply.

"Although summary judgment in a contested probate matter indeed is rare, it nonetheless 'is proper when the petitioner sufficiently establishes a prima facie case for probate and the respondent fails to raise any genuine issue of fact,'" Egan wrote, quoting Matter of Shapiro, 100 AD3d 1242 (2012).

Presiding Justice Karen Peters (See Profile) and Justices William McCarthy (See Profile) and Edward Spain (See Profile) joined in the ruling.

According to the decision, House and Charlotte Stafford shared an interest in local history and historical preservation and became friendly in the early 2000s when Stafford was looking for a typist.

House moved into the Stafford family home to care for Charlotte after she suffered a fall in 2004.

Michael Genute of Norwich and Emerson, of Lee & Emerson in Norwich, represented NBT Bank, N.A., the executor of Charlotte Stafford's estate.

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