A New York case, the Matter of the Estate of Robyn R. Lewis, is going up in front of New York Court of Appeals now, to decide a case of a missing Will.
Robyn Lewis executed a Will in Texas in favor of her husband; the Will also provided that if the husband predeceased her, her father-in-law would be the executor and sole heir. Later, the couple divorced. As a result of the divorce, under New York law, the husband was effectively disinherited, but the ex-father-in-law was not.
Later, Ms. Lewis executed another Will, leaving everything to her two brothers. She gave this second Will to her neighbor for safe keeping. When she died, the brothers, who were not aware of the new Will, applied for and received Letters of Administration (if there is no Will, then the law determines who gets the assets). Later, however, the ex-husband found out that Ms. Lewis was dead, and his father applied for the Letters Testamentary, on the basis of the original Will. Unfortunately, the neighbor lost the second Will given to him for safekeeping.
The Surrogate revoked the Letters of Administration granted to the brothers and admitted the earlier Will to probate. It is very unlikely that Ms. Lewis would have wanted her ex father-in-law to receive her family house! The brothers, of course, have appealed. Given that this is a modest $200,000 estate, by the time this litigation is finished, the majority of the estate may be consumed by the legal costs!
Lesson to everyone: be careful how you store your estate planning documents. Make a copy or two (but do not unstaple the original!) Keep the original (either in your home, safe deposit box, or give it to the drafting attorney) and give a copy to your family.
Disclaimer: This article only offers general information. Each situation is unique. It is always helpful to talk to a specialized attorney, to figure out your various options and ramifications of actions. As every case has subtle differences, please do not use this article for legal advice. Only a signed engagement letter will create an attorney-client relationship.