RMF Partners John G. Farinacci and Jessica M. Baquet Achieve Landmark Victory In Hotly Contested Predatory Marriage Case

Uniondale, NY – October 27, 2022– Ruskin Moscou Faltischek, P.C. announced today that partners John G. Farinacci and Jessica M. Baquet achieved a landmark victory before the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court, Second Department in a hotly contested predatory marriage case. The Appellate Division upheld the Surrogate’s Court’s ruling in favor of the firm’s clients, which was rendered by Acting Surrogate John G. Ingram after a 37-day bench trial in 2018. Mr. Farinacci and Ms. Baquet also acted as lead counsel at trial.

This litigation arose from the clandestine marriage of Irving Berk to his live-in caretaker less than one year before his death when he was 99 years old. The caretaker first revealed the marriage to the firm’s clients, Irving’s sons and the co-executors of his estate, in a car on the way to the funeral home after Irving died. She then commenced a proceeding seeking a declaration that she was entitled to an elective share of Irving’s multi-million dollar estate. Based on a strict construction of the relevant statute, the Surrogate’s Court initially ruled in the caretaker’s favor, finding that she could not be disqualified from receiving an inheritance even if Irving lacked capacity to marry or the marriage was the product of undue influence.

In 2010, the Appellate Division rendered a watershed decision in favor of RMF’s clients, holding for the first time that a surviving spouse may be disqualified from receiving an elective share if she knowingly married an incapacitated person. In a second appeal in 2015, the Appellate Division again ruled in favor of the firm’s clients and held that a surviving spouse may also be disqualified if she procured the marriage through undue influence.

After these appellate victories changed the legal landscape, RMF’s attorneys successfully represented Irving’s co-executors in a months-long trial involving dozens of witnesses and extensive documentary evidence. Today’s ruling by the Appellate Division affirms the Surrogate’s Court’s conclusion that the co-executors proved that Irving’s caretaker forfeited her inheritance because she married him at a time when he was mentally incapacitated and susceptible to undue influence, all for the purpose of obtaining a financial advantage.

For over 50 years, Ruskin Moscou Faltischek P.C., headquartered in Uniondale, has built a reputation as one of the region’s leading providers of innovative legal services. Its attorneys are practical, experienced advocates who measure their success by their clients’ success. Cornerstone groups in all major practice areas of the law are represented at the firm, including trusts and estates, corporate and securities, corporate restructuring & bankruptcy, commercial lending, commercial litigation, intellectual property, health care, real estate, employment, not-for-profit, cybersecurity and data privacy, and energy. Clients include large and mid-sized corporations, privately held businesses, institutions and individuals.