Testator’s hostility toward the heir he excluded doesn’t necessarily invalidate the Will

In the recent case of In the Matter of Estate of Jameson ,  the New Jersey Appellate Division reiterated that there are limited bases to set aside a duly-signed Last Will and Testament.   Kenneth Jameson’s Will disinherited his daughter and made various strongly-worded statements about his feelings about her alleged behavior toward him and about her relationship with someone of a different faith. His wife (her mother) had shared these opinions as well. Kenneth’s wife predeceased him. After his death, his daughter sought to invalidate the Will. Among other things, she argued that her father’s Will was the result off his discriminatory motivation against people of that religion and that, therefore, the Will violated public policy and was unenforceable.

According to the decision, “Article Four of Kenneth’s will stated that “[n]o part of [his] estate is at any time to be gifted, bequeathed, or devised to [his] daughter,” Stacy. Article Four further stated as follows” ‘As an extremely loving and devoted parent, I found that the love, care and concern which I lavished on my daughter was not acknowledged or returned in any way by my daughter. Instead, she acted toward me with selfishness, manipulation, cruelty, and with abusiveness. My daughter . . . blatantly lied to and about me, acted with hatefulness and vindictiveness towards me, and was abusive and physically violent towards me. [Stacy’s] shameful and hateful behavior towards me and her mother has brought me to my carefully considered decision that [Stacy] is to receive absolutely nothing from my estate.'”

Quoting from the 1992 case of In re Will & Testament of Liebl,, the Jameson Court stated, “A will may be contrary to the principles of justice and humanity; its provisions may be shockingly unnatural and extremely unfair,” however, courts are bound to uphold the validity of a will if made by a person of sufficient age to be competent  and if made while of sound and unconstrained mind. “[A] will cannot be set aside on account of strong, violent and unjust prejudice of the testator . . . if such prejudice be not founded on delusions and does not show mental incapacity . . . [and] that the unreasonableness of testator’s prejudice and unfairness in the disposition of his property will not alone avail the court to repudiate the will.”

The Court also explained that “absent undue influence, the motivation of the testator is not relevant to the validity of a decision to disinherit a putative heir.” The Court cited  In re Blake’s Will, a 1956 NJ Supreme Court case.

Will may be invalid due to “undue influence” by a person who becomes enriched as a result, or because the testator lacked sufficient mental capacity to knowingly determine the terms for his/her Will. Even those challenges are typically expensive, uphill battles. And beyond that, a challenge which is just based on  the reasonableness of  the Will, or the accuracy of the testator’s perceptions, may not even make it out of the starting box.

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