Same-Sex Spouse To Inherit Deceased Partner’s Estate

Saw this yesterday and its making its predictable rounds (here and here and here) today.  The actual decision was hard to find so I offer it to you here (PDF).  I enjoy these decisions; the ones whose menial size belies the hefty weight of their potential impact.  It seems a simple matter too: The Court was asked to determine the identity of decedent’s distributees entitled to receive notice of the probate of decedent’s will.

     The decedent married his same-sex partner, J. Craig Leiby, in Montreal, Province of Quebec, Canada on June 7, 2008.  He died on November 1, 2008 survived by Mr. Leiby and by three siblings.  The decedent had no children.  His parents predeceased him, as did another sibling, who also left no children.

     Marriages valid where solemnized have long been recognized in New York; exceptions exist only for marriages affirmatively prohibited by New York law, or proscribed by “natural law” [citation omitted] [footnote omitted].  As decedent’s marriage was valid under the law of Canada, where performed, and falls into neither exception to the general rule, the marriage is entitled to recognition in New York [citation omitted].

Accordingly, Mr. Leiby is decedent’s surviving spouse and sole distributee.  [Notice] in this probate proceeding need not issue under SCPA 1403(1)(a) or any other provision of law to any other person as distributee.

The ruling is boring insofar as it appears to merely affect notice, but its more interesting as a determination of standing…  If the Judge’s ruling holds, then family members of gay or lesbian decedents who were married and left a surviving spouse would have no standing in probate, since they would be neither heirs nor legatees of the gay or lesbian decedent.  Lacking standing they would not be able to challenge decedent’s will.

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