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Unlawfully Concealing a Will

The tragic death of a loved one, particularly a parent, can be a traumatic and upsetting time for all involved. This mix of emotions and sadness may be complicated further by family strife and personality differences and cause people to do drastic and uncharacteristic things. However, unlawfully concealing a will in New York is a felony.

If you or someone you know has been accused of unlawfully concealing a will call our aggressive New York attorneys today. Our New York lawyers have experience in both Surrogate’s Court and Criminal Court and are uniquely qualified to defend you and protect you and your rights.

When wills dispose of a great deal of money it puts further strain on a family, and unfortunately, in some circumstances, some may try to take advantage of a vulnerable family member or try to seize a will document and destroy it to claim an inheritance all for one’s own. New York law prohibits the destruction of any sort of testamentary instrument, be it a will, codicil, holographic will or any other form of document that devises assets from an estate to beneficiaries. Furthermore, the doctrine of unclean hands and the legal prohibition on profiting from one’s own frauds forecloses on the possibility of benefitting from the fraud of unlawfully concealing a will. Unlawfully concealing a will is punishable as a class E felony and carries with it a maximum penalty of 4 years in prison and a $5000.00 fine or double the gain made through the commission of the crime.

The doctrine of unclean hands and the prohibitions on benefitting from one’s own frauds grant a surrogate’s court the right to equitably prohibit one from taking under a will if they have fraudulently secreted or destroyed the document that should have been admitted to probate. Equity is a highly flexible doctrine that derives from ecclesiastical courts. Its main function in today’s courts is to provide flexible notions of justice that can be easily shaped to prevent unfair judgements while enhancing fairness in the court system. Equity is based on maxims. The maxim from which the doctrine of unclean hands derives is loosely translated from Latin as follows: One who comes to court seeking equity must arrive with clean hands. This means that one who commits prior wrongs will not be permitted to benefit in court. Therefore, a surrogate’s court has the right to prohibit one who has committed unlawful concealment of a will from inheriting under a will that they caused to be probated rather than the correct will.

The will must be a real will rather than a document that proports to be a will, but, probate need not be executed. A testamentary document for purposes of the criminal law must in fact comply with the law, it cannot, for example be wholly without the requirements of a signature, witnesses, and other means required of correctly drafting a will. For the purposes of unlawful concealment of a will the courts have used the definitions found in Estates, Powers, and Trusts Law 1-2.19(a) to define what a will is.

Criminal intent is required for prosecution of unlawful concealment of a will. The specific intent required is fraudulent intent. Therefore, where a subsequent will is in fact lost, accidentally misplaced, ruined, or otherwise completely obliterated, a defense may lie as to the element of intent. These defenses are largely fact based and require great skill to present to a jury in a way that they are receptive to.

If you or someone you know has been accused of unlawfully concealing a will call our aggressive New York criminal defense lawyers today. Our New York probate attorneys will defend you and protect you from incarceration all means legally possible.

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