Practice Areas

Related Practice Areas


Will, Trust, and Estate Litigation

Cullen and Dykman was already over fifty years old when Teddy Roosevelt stated that his goal as President was to “speak softly, but carry a big stick.” In a sense this is a paradigm with respect to the goal of avoiding litigation with regard to wills and trusts. We embrace sophisticated defensive planning techniques to avoid litigation for our clients. But we also represent clients who have standing to object to the wills of others or who have been damaged by the administration of trusts and estates in which they are interested.

We have represented clients in will contests, sometimes in support of a propounded will and on other occasions to object to a will. We have also participated in proceedings to construe and reform wills, in contested accounting proceedings and in tax proceedings. Our estate litigation team has substantial experience in all the Surrogate’s Courts in New York State, where the firm enjoys a reputation for sound advice, efficiency, and practicality. Our first and foremost goal will always be achieving the best possible result for our clients. Quite frequently, we are able to settle such proceedings without trials after taking into account the merits of the positions advanced by respective parties and the tax rules applicable.

Estate litigation can take many forms. Some of the kinds of matters the firm has handled include:

Questions you should be asking:

The attorneys at Cullen and Dykman can answer these questions and more.

A case in point

Estate litigation is among the nastiest of all types of litigation because of the volatile mixture of family and wealth. Cases take on an almost Shakespearean aspect as the factions feud. With that in mind, consider the following scenario:

Father is dead, and that is the only thing that Regan, Cordelia, and Goneril could agree upon. Although siblings, Regan, Cordelia, and Goneril never had an amicable relationship. Their disputes over the years usually pitted Regan and Goneril against Cordelia. In a misguided attempt to be fair to them all, Father divided his estate evenly among the three of them and named them all co-executors. The estate was a large one, consisting of a mansion, large parcels of real property, and cash. Father's will was admitted to probate and letters testamentary were issued to the three sisters. Regan and Goneril hired an attorney to help them to administer the estate. Cordelia did not agree with this selection and hired her own attorney. The attorneys immediately suggested that an arrangement should be agreed upon whereby they would not duplicate their efforts. The sisters reached no such arrangement. Cordelia objected when Regan and Goneril decided to sell the family mansion to pay federal estate taxes. Cordelia refused to participate in the transaction and Regan and Goneril proceeded without her, executing the deed without her signature. Their attorney, also a licensed real estate broker, agreed to broker the sale and agreed to take a reduced commission for the effort. When he produced a buyer willing to pay the fair market value for the property, Cordelia demanded to buy it for a sum in excess of the mansion's value. Regan and Goneril refused Cordelia's offer and said to her that she would never live in Father's house. In revenge, Cordelia proceeded to sell the antiques that filled the mansion against the wishes of her sisters. Litigation ensued and the court was required to decide the following issues:

  1. Can Regan and Goneril sell the mansion without Cordelia's signature on the deed?
  2. Can Regan and Goneril ask the Surrogate to compel Cordelia's cooperation on the sale of the real property?
  3. Can two attorneys represent three co-executors during the administration of the estate?
  4. Are the fees of both counsel reasonable administration expenses payable from estate funds?
  5. Can Cordelia sell the antiques without the consent of her co-fiduciaries?
  6. Is the broker-attorney entitled to a commission for selling the mansion?


  • July 1, 2016
  • May 19, 2016
  • April 30, 2014
  • Michael Ryan Speaks at Seminar for Estate Planning Council of Long Island on Radical Changes in the Uniform Trust Code
    February 12, 2014
  • "Pre-trial issue in Surrogate’s Court", New York State Bar Association, Litigation in Surrogate’s Court
    June 2011
  • “The trial of a Contested Accounting: Preliminary Considerations”; New York State Bar Association
    May 2011
  • "Due Diligence in Surrogate's Court" and "Professional Liability for Estate Planners"; Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, Annual Lawyers' Seminar
    April 2011
  • "Multiple Fiduciaries, Their Roles and Responsibilities"; New York State Bar Association, Contested Accountings Seminar
    Spring 2010
  • "Report to the Bar Association on Surrogate's Court Developments"; Nassau County Bar Association, Trusts and Estates Section
    Spring 2010
  • "The Prudent Investor Act and its Relevance to an Article 81 Guardian”; Judicial Institute of the Unified Court System
    Spring 2010
  • “Current Developments in the Case Law and A Report on the Court”; Nassau County Bar Association, Trusts and Estates Section
    Spring 2010
  • “The Continuing Viability of CPLR 4519, The Deadman’s Statute”; Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, Annual Lawyers’ Day Seminar
    March 21, 2010
  • “Current Issues in Contested Accountings of Trustees”; Nassau County Bar Association, Trusts and Estates Section
    January 2010
  • “Accountings by Trustees of Real Estate Interests”; Nassau County Chapter of Certified Public Accountants
    January 2010
  • “Multiple Fiduciaries, Their Roles and Responsibilities”; New York State Bar Association, Contested Accountings Seminar
    December 2009
  • “The Fine Art of Disinheritance”; Hudson Valley Estate Planning Council
    December 2009