In general, the party tasked with defending a decedent’s Will during a Will contest, which is typically the executor, is entitled to the reimbursement of counsel fees that they incur in defending the Will on behalf of the Estate. At times, however, a party who has filed an action to contest a Last Will and Testament may also be entitled to an award of counsel fees provided there was a reasonable and legitimate basis to contest the decedent’s Last Will and Testament. In a recent appellate division case, the court affirmed an award of counsel fees to the contestant of a decedent’s Will for these very reasons.

Continue Reading Counsel Fee Award When Contesting A Will

If you are the named executor of an Estate, there is the possibility that an action may be brought to challenge the validity of the Will which named you executor. Typically, this process begins with a verified complaint by an individual that seeks to contest the validity of the decedent’s Last Will and Testament submitted to the probate court. The statute of limitations for contesting a Will varies by state. For example, in New Jersey, it is merely four months for in-state residents and up to six months for out-of-state residents. Provided that a plaintiff (the person challenging the Will) has complied with the applicable state deadline by timely filing the Will contest, the executor should take several actions to prepare for defending against the Will contest.

Continue Reading Defending a Will Contest

In general, a party is only entitled to injunctive relief if they can demonstrate that the damages for which they seek redress are not compensable by an award of monetary damages, however, in a recent US District Court case, the US District Court decided that injunctive relief was called for to preserve monetary assets pending the resolution of a matter. Typically, it is rare to see estate litigation before a US District Court; however, the District Court correctly applied New Jersey law in finding that injunctive relief was appropriate.

Continue Reading Injunctive Relief to Prevent Monetary Damages in Estate Litigation

In previous blogs, I have discussed an award of counsel fees to a plaintiff who successfully contested a last will and testament. In a recent appellant division decision, the appellate court reviewed an award of counsel fees to a plaintiff who challenged a last will and testament, however, whose challenge was not successful.

Continue Reading Counsel Fees in Probate Litigation, Even if Unsuccessful

It is not uncommon for drafters of Wills to include a “no-contest clause” in a decedent’s Last Will and Testament. The purpose of the “no-contest clause” is to provide for the disinheritance of an heir to the estate should they challenge the validity of the decedent’s Last Will and Testament. While a “no-contest clause” could ultimately have this effect, it can likewise be defeated during a challenge to a Will. Further, if the litigation is settled before trial, there would typically be an agreement between the parties that the “no-contest clause” would not apply.

Continue Reading No-Contest Clause in a Will

Suppose a party seeks to challenge a decedent’s last will and testament based upon claims of competency or the improper assertion of undue influence. In that case, this contestant may also seek to challenge the transfer of certain non-probate assets that could comprise either the majority or a substantial percentage of the decedent’s assets. The grounds for challenging such transfers may be identical to those pursued in a challenge to a last will and testament, however, may be subject to applicable statutes and different standards of proof that govern a challenge to a particular class of asset.

Continue Reading Challenging the Transfer of Non-Probate Assets

During a Will contest, there are several different ways that a party seeking to challenge the validity of a Will may attack the document. One of the most common ways is to challenge the decedent’s competency when he/she executed the Will. In essence, the challenge would be that the decedent was not mentally competent at the time he/she executed the last will and testament, and therefore, this document is invalid as a matter of law.

Continue Reading Invalidating a Will Due to Lack of Competency of the Decedent

Once an individual is appointed as an executor of an estate, they will have access to assets that belong to the estate. Some of these assets may involve liquid funds which the executor can utilize during the administration of the estate to complete this process. Some permissible uses would be retaining counsel to assist with administration, or using assets of the estate to pay any applicable taxes or expenses of the estate. Unfortunately, at times, the executor may improperly utilize estate assets for their benefit and not for the benefit of the estate or the beneficiaries of the same. Such misuse of estate funds by an executor would be a breach of the executor’s fiduciary duty.

Continue Reading Misuse of Estate Funds by Executor of an Estate

If you are beneficiary of an Estate, at some point you will be asked to sign a Refunding Bond and Release prior to receiving your bequest from an Estate. The logical question that will arise is what exactly you are being asked to sign. The purpose of this blog is discuss generally what a Refunding Bond and Release is and how it relates to your distribution from the Estate.

Continue Reading The Refunding Bond and Release

In general, a codicil to a Will is an amendment to a last will and testament. A codicil can amend a Will in numerous different ways. For instance, it can change the amount of any bequests left under a Will and who will receive said bequests. It can also change who is to serve as the executor of the estate, or other issues related to the administration of the estate. Finally, its purpose may be to add a personal property distribution list. In essence, a codicil to a Will can amend virtually all of the terms of a last will and testament. Often, a person will simply seek to sign a new last will and testament in lieu of a codicil, however, there is nothing improper about utilizing a codicil to effectuate an amendment to their estate plans.

Continue Reading Challenging a Codicil to a Will