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State Supreme Court rules despite ‘repugnant’ action

| May 6, 2016 | Probate Litigation

The state Supreme Court is siding with a woman on the basis of the law, despite what it calls “repugnant” action on her part. The case had reached the Supreme Court after numerous appeals after a trial court ordered the woman to pay the estate’s legal fees.

The case stems from alleged suspicious activity before the woman’s husband passed away in 2007. According to reports, the woman and her husband, who was older, visited a bank just before his death to have the deed to a property signed over to her. Reports also indicate that the woman filed codicils to the man’s will just before or just after his death, and those documents have been called into question by the man’s other heirs.

The issues and allegations surrounding the estate resulted in a civil trial. The result of that trial was a ruling that the woman had engaged in forgery and fraud and had diverted assets from the estate. A judge in that case directed the woman to return $60,000 in diverted assets and to refund the estate for almost $400,000 in legal costs.

The woman appealed the requirement to pay for legal costs, and this is what the Supreme Court sided with her on. It ruled that she didn’t have to pay the legal fees under the state’s “American Rule,” which discourages moving legal fees from one side to another. According to the Court, the woman didn’t meet the exception to that rule, which is for executors or trustees who have a fiduciary duty to an estate.

This case illustrates how complex estate issues can get following a death. Working with a legal professional ahead of time can ensure that your estate wishes are clearly and legally documented to protect your heirs.

Source: Courier-Post, “‘Hollow’ victory in Cherry Hill inheritance dispute,” Jim Walsh, May 03, 2016

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