While the Surrogate’s Court has a wide jurisdictional reach to adjudicate issues which involve all facets of a decedent’s estate, the Matter of Pearl B Kalikow 2009 Slip Op 00539  represents somewhat of an exception to this rule. The Appellate Division’s Second Department upheld Nassau County Surrogate John Riordan’s decision to recognize an arbitration agreement made by the decedent in her lifetime.

Specifically, Pearl Kalikow had signed a partnership agreement  which provided for alternate dispute resolution of disputes by requiring that all controversies or claims arising from the agreement be submitted to a specific attorney for arbitration — or to a panel of three arbitrators pursuant to the rules of the American Arbitration Association. Petitioner sought a stay of arbitration on the ground that the respondents had wanted to arbitrate the distribution of the decedent’s estate. Petitioner claimed that this was solely the jurisdiction of the Surrogate’s Court and that arbitration was a violation of public policy.

Both Surrogate Riordan –and the Appellate Division disagreed, finding that "a decedent’s agreement to arbitrate a controversy is binding upon the representatives of the decedent’s estate".A demand to arbitrate "does not concern the construction of the decedent’s will or the administration of her estate. Accordingly arbitration of the parties’ dispute does not offend public policy.