Invocation of Fifth Amendment Privilege Against Self-Incrimination by Both Attesting Witnesses Did Not Require Dismissal of Petition to Admit Will to Probate
The Third Department determined that Surrogate’s Court properly denied the motion to dismiss the petition. Dismissal was sought because both attesting witnesses invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination:
To establish that the will was duly executed, petitioner was required to produce the attesting witnesses for examination unless the law permitted the court to dispense with their testimony (see SCPA 1404 ). The applicable statutes do not address the invocation of the privilege against self-incrimination by attesting witnesses, but this Court has found that such an invocation is akin to a failure to recall the events surrounding a will’s execution and, thus, that a will may be admitted to probate pursuant to SCPA 1405 (3) when one witness invokes the privilege, based on the testimony of the other witness or witnesses and sufficient other proof … .
Respondents contend that, as both attesting witnesses invoked the privilege here, the requirement in SCPA 1405 (3) for the testimony of “at least [one] other attesting witness” was not satisfied. However, the Court of Appeals has held that SCPA 1405 (3) was not intended to “revolutionize prior practice” by requiring at least one attesting witness to testify in favor of a will … . Instead, in holding that a will may be admitted to probate under SCPA 1405 (3) when no attesting witness recalls its execution, the Court found that – consistent with prior law – the statute requires attesting witnesses to be “examined, and all relevant testimony elicited” … but does not impose requirements upon the substance of their testimony. * * * The issue thus distills to whether there was sufficient other evidence to establish a prima facie case of due execution, and we find that there was. Matter of Estate of Buchting…, 516257, 3rd Dept 11-21-13