Parents, Promises and Agreements, and Probate

Family members make a lot of promises to one another over the course of lifetimes. Not all of them are, of course, carried out. Not even the best intentioned ones. So, what happens to a mother’s estate deep into the probate process when a son tries to enforce a promise given years earlier?

We’re about to find out. A Surrogate’s Court in New York State is supervising the probate of Nicolina Dispirato’s estate. A fairly modest estate comprised of a lot of personal items that have sentimental value and a small apartment house in East New York that was dirt cheap when it was bought a generation ago but is now valued at around $1 million.

You may not have heard of Nicolina, but you very well may have heard of her son, Rocco Dispirito. Rocco burst into the restaurant scene in the late 1990’s when he opened a legendary restaurant in Manhattan’s Gramercy Park area. Since then he has has his own reality TV shows, been on Dancing with the Stars, made guest appearances on TV dramas, appeared on Celebrity Top Chef, was a judge on the same show, the list goes on and on and on.

Nicolina died in 2013, aged 87. She left half the estate to Rocco and the other half to be divided equally between his two siblings. Nicolina spent some of her last years in an assisted living facility, Rocco paid for it, the division of the estate seems to be Nicolina’s way of acknowledging that.

So, simple. But, if you follow our blog at all you know nothing we post about is simple. Rocco, who was named executor of the estate in his mother’s will, wants more. Specifically, he wants the estate to reimburse him for the $1.5 million he claims he spent on his mother’s upkeep in the last years of her life.

He further clams that not only did his mother promise to reimburse him, at some point she signed an agreement – an i.o.u, if you will for $1.14 million, what she felt ‘obligated’ to repay at the time.

Rocco, as executor, is refusing to sell the apartment house until he gets what he wants, leaving his brother and sister high and dry.

There’s more, like the fact that Nicolina not only worked for Rocco, she was a big part of his TV presence. One could argue that he made it as big as he did because of his mother and her famous meatballs – she made hundreds a day for his restaurants.

Can a promise to reimburse a child for assisted living costs be enforced in probate court? We’ll ¬†soon see, but we have to think that asking a parent to sign a repayment agreement while in assisted living could easily be seen as coercive. Think of what the parent may think the consequences of ‘no’ may be.