NEW JERSEY LAW NOW HOLDS EXECUTORS AND TRUSTEES POTENTIALLY LIABLE FOR DAMAGES

Punitive Damages Okayed in Probate Dispute Case:

By Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. a New Jersey Probate Dispute attorney

Our New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled under what circumstances punitive damages can be awarded against a fiduciary involved with Wills, Trusts, Probate proceedings and lifetime transfers.

 
A lawsuit was filed against a doctor who was alleged to have persuaded an elderly woman to transfer a large home in Spring Lake, New Jersey to him in lieu of the local Volunteer First Aide Squad who was the prior testamentary beneficiary under her Last Will and Testament.  In its analysis, the Court concluded that the remedy of punitive damages is limited to situations where an individual (who is essentially a stranger to the testator) gains access to him or her through undue influence and then carries out a scheme to place himself or herself in a position to seize control of the testator=s (decedents) assets through a lifetime transfer or a bequest under their Last Will and Testament.  Generally punitive damage awards filed in the Probate Division of the Superior Court must be in compliance with the New Jersey Punitive Damages Act.  This remedy will be infrequent and limited to circumstances in which the person who received the lifetime gift or bequest is an individual who otherwise cannot be punished through a lesser available remedy by the Probate Court. Because of the unique facts of this case, an award of compensatory damages and potentially punitive damages was available.   This decision is significant for the proposition that Executors, beneficiaries of lifetime and testamentary gifts when obtained through undue influence, suspicious circumstances, etc.  can be held personally liable for punitive damages.

 
If you have any questions, contact Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. toll-free at (888) 800-7442, or e-mail him at fniemann@hnlawfirm.com/.  He is happy to answer your inquiries.

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