Bonnie Lawston-LiEstate Attorney by cjleclaire
Long Island Estate Attorney,Estates,Trusts Administration,Litigation
Jan 05, 2016 | 52953 views | 0 0 comments | 422 422 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

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Estate planning, estate administration, probate estates and trust issues
by cjleclaire
Mar 31, 2020 | 732 views | 0 0 comments | 38 38 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

These times are new to all of us.   Our clients and your needs are important to us and we are here to assist you with your estate planning, estate administration, probate estates and trust issues.  If you have lost a loved one, you can still have a consultation with our attorney and move forward on handling your loved one’s legal affairs.  We have been representing clients all over the country remotely.  There is no need to leave the safety of your home if you are an executor, an heir or just need legal assistance to protect the Estate and your inheritance.   Furthermore, to help our community and serve our clients even more,  we have relaxed the requirements of legal fees and retainers where most estates are not required to pay any money for legal fees up front.  All such legal fees are deferred and paid either by the Estate or at the time of distribution so that you do not have worry about any financial responsibility.   All you have to do is pick up the phone and contact our office.


1841 New York Avenue, Huntington Station, New York 11746

PO BOX 317, RIDGE, NEW YORK, 11961 (all mail and correspondence)

Offices in Huntington Station & Ridge

Office: (631) 425-7299        Fax: 1-866-431-0101



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Lost a Loved one due to Caronavirus? Free Consultation
by cjleclaire
Mar 30, 2020 | 682 views | 0 0 comments | 73 73 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
Helping Our Community under these Stressful Financial Times without leaving the “Safety” of your home

During these times with such financial hardship, our firm will waive all retainer fees in most estate administration and probate matters.

No Money for Legal Fees Due Upfront.

Serving Suffolk & Nassau Counties

•Out of State Clients who lost a Loved one that resides in New York or has Real Estate in NY

•Telephone Conference & Video Conference

•Making the job of Executor, Administrator, Trustee and Probate easier for you.

•Whether you are a fiduciary or beneficiary we can help you.

•Maximizing & Protecting Your Inheritance.
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Law Office of Bonnie Lawston,P.C. Video Conference & Telephone Consultations
by cjleclaire
Mar 17, 2020 | 8256 views | 0 0 comments | 363 363 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

At the Law Offices of Bonnie Lawston, P.C., the health and safety of our staff, colleagues and clients is our top priority.

You rely on us for your personal and professional needs, and we remain ready to help you in this difficult time as we face many challenges and uncertainties.

As such, we are taking a number of steps to minimize health risks during this health crises.

Our law firm will be adhering to the guidelines presented by the Centers for Disease Control and our local health officials, and we continue to monitor them for updates as they are released in real time. Accordingly, we have implemented a plan to protect the safety of our work environment while allowing us to continue to service all of our clients.

Our attorneys and staff are taking precautions with respect to non-essential meetings and face-to-face interactions. That includes telephone consultations and video conference calls whenever possible. When a face to face meeting is necessary, such as to execute a Will, a Trust, or even your Health Care Proxy, we will provide a clean and spacious environment to do so. With respect to our real estate practice, we will endeavor to utilize Powers of Attorney and even Escrow Closings in order to close title when the transaction permits us to do so.

Please, do not hesitate to reach out to us if you have any questions or concerns regarding your current estate plan or if you want to get started right away. As always, our lawyers and staff are committed to handling our clients' matters with the utmost care and respect, and we will remain vigilant as we strive to overcome these challenges. We are here for you and hope that you and your family remain safe and healthy.


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by cjleclaire
Mar 04, 2020 | 6724 views | 0 0 comments | 551 551 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Take a breathe first.  After you have gathered your thoughts, make an appointment and consult with an Probate Estate Administration attorney. Many offer a free consultation and can provide valuable information. The steps that you take initially are very important and if given the proper guidance can save you time and money. Many of people I speak with make most of their mistakes with estate administration in the beginning and prior to seeing an estate probate attorney.  I always tell my clients, please call me, any time, if you are about to make a decision that affects the estate, your fiduciary responsibilities or even the estate assets.  I can provide you the right legal advice to avoid the common mistakes that can be costly before they happen and avoid same.

My legal practice focuses on probate, estate administration and trust administration. any of my clients reside outside of New York, in Florida, California and other parts of the country but are serving as a fiduciary or an heir to a New York Estate matter. If you are an executor, administrator or trustee for someone who died in another state but the decedent owned real property in New York, we can assist you with that ancillary proceeding. There is no need to be stressed out over the estate administration process. We provide the legal assistance that is needed at a low cost. If you have no money to retain an attorney, we offer many types of retainers where the legal fees are deferred.



If you believe your family member’s will is not being properly executed, a lawyer can review and advise you of your rights. Whether you live locally or out-of-state, a probate attorney can answer your questions. You can relax on your sofa or spend time with family, and we will take care legal matters, preparing documents for probate court and working to protect your interests.

Located on Long Island, The Law Office of Bonnie Lawston. PC has assisted countless clients from all over the country with the challenges of probate and estate administration with New York Estates. In cases where your loved one lived elsewhere but had real estate in New York, we can assist you with the administration of the New York assets.


Beneficiaries receive what remains after the estate has been inventoried, creditors have been paid and tax returns have been filed with payment of applicable taxes. A lawyer reviews the estate legal documents, closing documents, bank records, demand and review a judicial accounting and other discover documents to ensure you receive your inheritance and that the executor provides a proper accounting and complies with the applicable laws as it relates to the administration of the Estate.

In instances where you do not receive the proper distribution, your attorney can fight for your inheritance and seek to hold the fiduciary of the estate accountable for his or her actions. In many instances, communication from a lawyer resolves the issue, and if not, taking legal action may be necessary to protect your interests.

Remember that the attorney for the estate’s representative does not represent you but represents the fiduciary of the Estate. Thus, if the fiduciary has done something improper or not done something, the estate’s attorney is not going to tell you.  You need your own attorney to protect your interests as opposed to the Estate.



Under New York law, whether your spouse included you in the will or not, you are entitled to either $50,000 plus one half of the value of the estate or $50,000 plus one third depending on whether you have children. The exception would be if you waived your rights in a prenuptial agreement or other document.

If your spouse eliminates you from the Will, you must file a claim within the statutory amount of time to preserve your rights.  Our probate and estate attorney can assist you with protecting your inheritance rights.


Delving into the law and understanding the statutes that apply to probate are daunting for most people. It takes years of study and experience to acquire the legal knowledge a lawyer has attained. Lawyers can help you take advantage of tax laws to maximize the inheritance. In addition, various retainers are available and some allow legal fee payment through the estate, rather than direct payment.

Many times, an estate has a lot of real property and very little cash, or the family can not access the cash making it difficult to retain an attorney. The Law Office of Bonnie Lawston, PC understands this very well and will offer retainers that require no money up front for legal fees. Most clients qualify for this retainer. Free consultations are offered and can help evaluate your case immediately making for a quicker resolution saving you time and money.

Furthermore, when a loved one dies, loss, grief and other emotions often make dealing with legal matters difficult. It can be helpful to have guidance from an objective professional outside of the family.

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Matter of Van Patten—Undue Influence
by cjleclaire
Feb 15, 2019 | 26024 views | 0 0 comments | 786 786 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Probate Administration | Wrongful Actions

There are certain basic legal requirements when a person transfers property, conveys a power of attorney or establishes a plan for the distribution of an estate. Among the most important are:

  • The person must have appropriate legal capacity
  • The person must not have been subject to “undue influence”

In the Matter of Wechsler, a 2015 opinion from the New York County Surrogate’s Court, specifically addresses both of these issues.

The Facts

Lewis Wechsler died in February, 2006, survived by his wife of 30 years and two adult children from a previous marriage. In the probate proceedings to settle his estate, a will executed in November 2004 was offered to the court. That will placed all his property into trust for the lifetime benefit of his wife, with his children designated as beneficiaries upon her death. The deceased had executed five prior wills, the first in 1992, with the same provisions.

During the probate proceedings, however, it was discovered that most of the property that would have passed through the will had been transferred to the decedent’s wife through a serious of transactions, starting in June, 2005. This included the execution of a power of attorney in favor of the wife, as well as the transfer of individually owned property to jointly held property. The executor asked the Surrogate Court to compel the wife to turn over property, alleging that the decedent lacked capacity to make property transfers or execute a power of attorney, and that the wife had exerted undue influence to bring about the property transfers.  The wife asked the court to dismiss the executor’s motion, arguing that there was insufficient evidence of lack of capacity.


As a general rule, legal capacity refers to the ability to understand both the nature of a transaction or agreement, as well as its consequences. In Wechsler, the executor introduced evidence indicating that the decedent had been admitted to the hospital the day before he executed the first transfer of property to his wife (in June, 2005). Notes from that admission state that he “was becoming more confused recently,” and diagnosed him with a “waning mental status,” indicating that he occasionally mistook his daughter for his wife. Other documentation from that visit described him as “forgetful” and prone to lapses in short-term memory.

The wife contended that the confusion and disorientation demonstrated that day were a one-time occurrence, citing other assessments that the decedent was “alert and oriented” and able to communicate his needs.

The court ruled that the determination of whether the deceased had the necessary capacity to execute the first transfer was a factual issue that needed to be (and had not been) resolved. Accordingly, the court denied the motion to dismiss. However, because the executor had introduced no evidence suggesting that the decedent experienced the same capacity issues when the other property was transferred, the court ruled that all transfers except the first one were valid. (NOTE: The executor had introduced expert testimony from a medical professional alleging incapacity at the time of the other transactions. The court rejected that testimony, citing the fact that the expert had never personally examined the decedent or discussed his condition with attending nurses or physicians).

Undue Influence

As stated by the court in Wechsler, undue influence requires a showing of influence that amounted to “moral coercion.” That influence must have “restrained independent action” and must have led the decedent to do something which was “against his free will and desire.”

The court concluded that there were genuine issues regarding whether or not the wife exerted undue influence. The medical record indicated that he was in extremely poor health and suffering from depression at the time of the transactions. Evidence also showed that the wife was integrally involved in all the transactions. She drafted some of the letters requesting property transfers and also brought documents to the decedent, so that he could sign them from his hospital bed. In addition, the court was troubled by the fact that the decedent had used the same attorney to handle all prior estate planning (the executor), but that attorney had not been consulted before these transactions.

Because the court perceived that there were still factual issues to be resolved regarding the question of undue influence, the court denied the wife’s motion to dismiss the action.

Contact the Law Office of Bonnie Lawston, PC

At the Law Office of Bonnie Lawston,  P.C. , we focus our estate administration practice on estates subject to probate in Nassau County and Suffolk County on Long Island. Contact our office online  or call us at 631-425-7299  to set up a free initial consultation.

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Can Your Family Have Access to Your E-Mail after Your Death?
by cjleclaire
Feb 23, 2018 | 42004 views | 0 0 comments | 759 759 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

In today's electronic world, the idea of property has changed dramatically. In the past, when you were putting together an estate plan, the only intangible property that might be a part of it was certain types of securities. Now, however, you can have e-mail accounts, online subscriptions, social media passwords and other digital assets. Recognizing the importance of digital property, the New York legislature recently enacted laws setting forth the rights of potential heirs to such property.

In Matter of Serrano, 2017 NY Slip Op 27200, (Sur. Ct., New York County, June 14, 2017), the court addressed the issue of whether the fiduciary of an estate had a statutory right to access to online  passwords and other digital data, so as to "inform friends of [the decedent's] passing…and close any unfinished business." The judge allowed disclosure of contacts and calendar information from the deceased's Google account, but denied access to the content of the e-mails in the Google account, reasoning that the contacts were necessary for the administration of the estate. Under the recent New York law, the custodian of electronic records (here Google), can be required to disclose to the personal representative of an estate a "catalogue of electronic communications sent or received by a deceased user." The statute defines "catalogue of electronic communications" to include only the identity of any person with who the deceased had an electronic communication, the time and date of that communication, and the e-mail address of that person.

In a more recent Surrogate Court opinion, a fiduciary's request for access to the contents of a decedent's Google account was denied. In Matter of White, 2017 NYLJ, October 3, 2017, at p. 25, the court expressed concern that allowing "unfettered access" to digital property had the potential to involve the unnecessary disclosure of sensitive or confidential information, unrelated to the administration of the estate. The court concluded that, when evaluating a request for access to digital data, there must be a balancing of interests—the interest of the fiduciary to properly administer the estate, and the interest of the deceased in his or her privacy. Accordingly, the court followed the precedent in Serrano, allowing disclosure of contact information only.

The estate administration process can be complex and confusing. It's important to have a strong and knowledgeable lawyer to guide you through the process. Attorney Bonnie Lawston offers more than 20 years of experience to clients in Nassau County and Suffolk County.

Contact the Law Office of Bonnie Lawston for all your Probate and Estate Administration matters. 


To set up a free initial consultation, contact us by e-mail or call us at 631-425-7299 or 24/7 at 855-479-4700) for an appointment.

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Surrogate Court Gives Lifetime Promise Priority Over Will
by cjleclaire
Feb 16, 2018 | 38278 views | 0 0 comments | 1198 1198 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Perhaps the most common way to transfer property upon death in the State of New York is through a valid will or trust.   What happens, though, if you’ve entered into a binding contract to transfer certain property to a specific beneficiary under you will, but the terms of the document convey it to someone else? Which document takes priority?

The Surrogate Court for Nassau County looked at this specific legal issue in Schwartz v. Bourque, 2017 NY Slip Op 31621 (U)(Sur. Ct., Nassau County, June 14, 2017), concluding that a person who enters into a valid contract to transfer property upon death may not subsequently agree to transfer the property to another person, either while still alive or in a will.

In the Schwartz case, the dispute centered on title to the real property where the decedent and two subsequent generations resided. Initially, the deceased (Mother) was the sole owner of the property, but executed an agreement in 1978 that allowed her daughter (Daughter) to live on the property for as long as she desired, provided she paid the “carrying charges” on the residence. The agreement also promised to convey full legal title to the Daughter in the Mother’s will.

The 1978 agreement was amended six years later, with the preparation and execution of a new agreement and a deed, immediately conveying a one-half interest in the property to the Daughter. In 2012, however, the Mother executed a new deed, attempting to transfer the remaining one-half interest in the property to her granddaughter (Granddaughter). The Daughter objected to the conveyance, arguing that it violated the 1978 agreement. The Granddaughter claimed that the 1984 agreement superseded the 1978 agreement and, because it contained no clause regarding the transfer of the property by will, that clause was no longer valid.

After reviewing the facts, the court ruled that a subsequent contract will only replace and render a prior contract void under one of two circumstances:

  • The subsequent contract contains specific language voiding or superseding the earlier agreement—the court found that it did not
  • The contracts covered exactly the same subject matter—the court found that they did not, as one made a promise of a testamentary disposition and the other did not

Because the Granddaughter could not show that the 1984 agreement superseded the 1978 agreement and revoked the promise to convey the property to the Daughter in the Mother’s will, the Granddaughter was not legally entitled to any interest in the property. Accordingly, the 2012 deed was not valid.

It’s obvious from the facts of this case that an estate matter can become extremely complicated. It’s critical that you have an experienced, knowledgeable and capable lawyer to protect your interests. Probate and Estate Administration Attorney Bonnie Lawston brings more than two decades of hands-on experience in estate litigation to clients across Nassau County and Suffolk County on Long Island, New York.

Contact the Law Office of Bonnie Lawston for all your Probate and Estate Administration matters. 

At the Law Office of Bonnie Lawston, we offer experienced estate litigation counsel to individuals across Suffolk County and Nassau County. Contact our office online  or call us at 631-425-7299 or 24/7 at 855-479-4700, to set up a free initial consultation.

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Court Limits Scope of Release Involving Estate and Trust Accounting
by cjleclaire
Feb 08, 2018 | 36693 views | 0 0 comments | 1159 1159 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

It’s pretty common procedure for a fiduciary to a trust to obtain a release, with the objective of waiving the fiduciary’s obligation to provide an accounting of the assets of the estate and trust. A recent opinion from the Surrogate Court in New York County casts some doubt on the potential validity of such releases.

In Matter of Ingraham, NYLJ, June 16, 2017, at p. 28 (Sur. Ct., New York County), the court considered the validity of a receipt and release and ruled that it did not absolve the trustee from the legal responsibility to provide an accounting. In Ingraham, a successor trustee had filed a petition with the Surrogate Court asking that the former trustees submit an accounting. One trustee complied with the request, but the other trustee objected, citing both the language of the trust document, which she argued relieved her from any obligation to provide an accounting; and releases that had been signed and executed by the trust’s grantor and by the other trustee.

According to evidence entered during the proceeding, the document signed by the grantor released the trustee from “any and all claims related in any way to her role as trustee,” other than claims arising as a result of fraud or willful misconduct. The document also included a provision waiving the right to a formal accounting of the trust. The other trustee had executed a similar release.

The court, however, found that that trustee could not use the release to avoid the duty to provide an accounting, citing two specific reasons:

  • The release specifically reserves the right to seek relief if there are allegations of willful misconduct or fraud
  • The duty to provide an accounting is a fundamental aspect of any fiduciary relation, an essential part of a trustee’s duty

The court also concluded that, even if the released waived the grantor’s right to an accounting, it was not legally binding on the other trustee, successor trustees and trust beneficiaries. Furthermore, the court rejected the argument that the trust document waived the requirement that trustees provide an accounting, concluding that the trust document only waived the obligation to provide periodic accountings, not the requirement that there be a final accounting.

When you’re involved in an estate or trust administration dispute, it’s essential that you have knowledgeable, skilled and experienced legal representation. Estate and Probate Attorney Bonnie Lawston has protected the rights of individuals in trust and estate matters on Long Island for more than 20 years.

Contact Probate and Estate Administration Attorney Bonnie Lawston for all your Probate and Estate Administration matters.

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Keeping Your Ex Spouse from Being Administrator of Your Estate
by cjleclaire
Dec 19, 2017 | 30830 views | 0 0 comments | 758 758 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

In most situations, the last person you would want to give the authority to administer your estate would be a former spouse. In fact, to avoid such a contingency, it’s a fairly common practice for parties to a divorce to include language in the divorce decree prohibiting either from acting as administrator of the other’s estate. A ruling from the Albany Surrogate’s Court, however, has demonstrated the importance of careful estate planning to ensure that such a result does not ensue. Here’s what happened.

In the Matter of Walsh, Jr., the deceased had a child who had priority to serve as the administrator of his estate, but the child was still a minor. Because the child could not serve as administrator, the court needed to appoint a fiduciary. The decedent’s ex-wife, mother to the child, successfully petitioned the court to be the legal guardian of the child. Once she became the legal guardian, she also had authority and became the administrator of the estate.

In response to the appointment of the ex-wife as administrator of the estate, the deceased’s brother filed a motion with the court to remove her, citing the divorce decree, which specifically stated that neither party would serve as executor or administrator of the other’s estate. The court, however, ruled against the brother, concluding that the ex-wife was not serving personally and individually as administrator, but rather as guardian of the minor child.

The upshot of the decision? You need to be very careful when you designate who will act as your administrator, and you are best served to identify specific successor administrators, in the event your primary choice is unwilling or unable to serve.

At the Law Office of Bonnie Lawston, we have extensive experience representing individuals facing similar concerns. We can provide a thorough analysis of your estate planning and implement measures to ensure that your wishes are honored.

Contact the Law Office of Bonnie Lawston

At the Law Office of Bonnie Lawston, we focus our estate administration practice on estates subject to probate in Nassau County and Suffolk County on Long Island. Contact our office online or call us at 631-425-7299 or 24/7 at 855-479-4700to set up a free initial consultation.

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What Happens If You Can’t Locate a Will?
by cjleclaire
Aug 16, 2017 | 30595 views | 1 1 comments | 722 722 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

So you spend the time and money to carefully plan out your estate and you prepare and execute a will that ensures that your property goes exactly where you want it to. Once you’ve made it official, you put the original copy of your last will and testament with your other important papers, in a file cabinet in your home or study.

That could be a big mistake! In the state of New York, if the original copy of your last will and testament cannot be located after your death, there’s a high likelihood that it won’t be admitted during the probate proceedings, even if you can find a copy. That’s because, in New York, if a will was known to be in the decedent’s possession, but cannot be found, there’s a presumption that the will was revoked. That presumption can only be overcome by affirmatively showing that:

  • The will has not been revoked
  • The will was properly executed
  • The provisions of the will are clearly and distinctly proven by either two credible witnesses or by a copy of the will shown to be true and complete

As a practical matter, overcoming the presumption of revocation is extremely difficult, as it can be challenging to prove conclusively that the decedent did not revoke the will.

A 2015 decision by the Queens County Surrogate upheld this presumption. In Matter of Massimo, testimony indicated that the deceased was known to have an original copy of his last will and testament, as well as a codicil, in a Federal Express envelope in his sock drawer. At his death, however, family members could not find the original copies of either document, but were able to find photocopies. It was also proven that one family member, who had the motive and opportunity to destroy the original will, had entered the decedent’s residence.

The court, following established New York law, found a presumption that the will and codicil had been revoked. The court further concluded that, absent concrete evidence that a family  member had destroyed the original will, the presumption that the decedent had voluntarily revoked it could not be overcome.

This office has been successful under certain circumstances to probate a copy.  There is a series of steps or requirements that one must meet in order for the Court to accept a copy.   For example,  if the original Will was known by another disinterested person to be in the possession of the testator,  had seen it recently, discussed it with the Testator and the home where the Will was kept was destroyed by a storm or fire.  Under limited circumstances, a copy may be admitted to probate.

Our office can evaluate your case and determine if such a proceeding is appropriate or it an intestacy proceeding is necessary.   Should you have any questions, please contact our office to speak with an attorney or our staff.

Contact the Law Office of Bonnie Lawston

At the Law Office of Bonnie Lawston, we focus our estate administration practice on estates subject to probate in Nassau County and Suffolk County on Long Island. Contact our office online or call us at 631-425-7299 or 24/7 at 855-479-4700to set up a free initial consultation.

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