The decision of the Appellate Division’s Second Department to reverse Suffolk County Surrogate John Czyger in the Matter of Kohn reported at http://2016 NY Slip Op 07194 involves a dispute over the meaning of a pre-nuptial agreement. No tears here for the respondent wife who sought to sought a judgment entitling her to recover $3,500,000 less the amount of four mortgages and one half the value of joint accounts identified in the agreement. The executor of her late husband’s estate contended that the entire value of the joint accounts should set off against the amount ultimately paid to Ms. Kohn (a/k/a Lutz).
After finding that both parties offered reasonable interpretations of the agreement, the court ruled that the ambiguities of the contested agreement could be determined on renewal by examining evidence submitted by the estate indicating that the parties intended that the wife’s recovery should be limited to the $3,500,000 less the mortgages and the entire amount of the joint accounts. The court opined that under normal conditions, it would not look outside of the four corners of the agreement in order to interpret it. Here, parol evidence was admitted to explain an ambiguous agreement.
Your lawblogger notes that the court’s ability to determine the intent of the parties here is somewhat hampered by the fact that the decedent is no longer available to tell us his side of the story, thereby making it more understandable to look to the deposition of a non-party (one of the attorneys involved in the negotiation of the original agreement) to assist in making a final determination.