Navigating the complexities of abandonment proceedings can be a daunting task. Establishing abandonment in estate litigation requires the presentation of admissible evidence, but obtaining such evidence can be a significant challenge.
Estate Litigation and Right of Election:
In New York, the surviving spouse has a legal entitlement to a share of the deceased’s estate through the Right of Election. However, the Right of Election may be forfeited if the surviving spouse has “abandoned” the deceased prior to their death. This article discusses the obstacles faced in finding admissible evidence to prove abandonment in such situations.
Criteria for Abandonment:
For abandonment to be established, it must be shown that the surviving spouse willingly and intentionally severed the marital relationship without justification or consent from the deceased. Importantly, abandonment cannot be based solely on the grounds of emotional or financial neglect. Instead, it must be proven that the surviving spouse had the intent to abandon the deceased and that the separation was permanent.
The Challenge of Discovering Admissible Evidence:
The nature of abandonment cases makes the discovery of admissible evidence particularly challenging. Factors that contribute to this difficulty include:
- Confidentiality: Conversations and correspondences between spouses are considered privileged, and therefore inadmissible as evidence. However, admissions made by the surviving spouse to third parties may be admissible, provided they are not hearsay.
- Hearsay: In general, hearsay evidence is not admissible in court. This poses a challenge in abandonment proceedings, as many key pieces of information may be in the form of hearsay.
- Reliability: The credibility of witnesses is crucial in abandonment cases. In many instances, family members or friends may have a personal bias that could affect their testimony.
- Documentation: Proving abandonment often relies on obtaining relevant documents, such as emails, letters, or financial records. However, these materials can be difficult to locate or may have been destroyed.
- Time: The passage of time can make obtaining admissible evidence more difficult, as memories fade and documents may be lost or discarded.
Addressing the Challenge:
To overcome these obstacles, litigators must use a strategic and comprehensive approach in their search for admissible evidence. They should:
- Identify potential witnesses: Determine who may have relevant information about the marital relationship and the alleged abandonment.
- Review documents: Gather and analyze any available documentation that may provide insight into the spouses’ relationship and the alleged abandonment.
- Investigate thoroughly: Conduct a detailed investigation, including interviewing witnesses and reviewing financial records, to obtain the necessary evidence.
- Seek expert assistance: Consult with experts in fields such as forensic accounting or digital forensics to help uncover hidden or lost evidence.
Finding admissible evidence in abandonment proceedings is a formidable task. To successfully navigate these challenges, litigators must employ a strategic and thorough approach, utilizing all available resources to uncover the necessary proof.