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NJ Considers Punitives in Will Contests

Posted Oct 17, 2007 6:33 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The New Jersey Supreme Court is considering whether a lawyer and his client should be required to pay punitive damages and attorney fees to the winning side in a will contest.

The will, signed by an elderly woman before surgery, made lawyer Ronald Casale the executor of her multimillion-dollar estate and Dr. Ronald Sollitto the beneficiary, the New Jersey Law Journal reports.

A judge refused to admit the will to probate, saying it appeared to be the result of “sharp dealing,” the newspaper reports. As a result, the money in the estate goes to a prior beneficiary, the Spring Lake First Aid Squad.

Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto questioned why rules regarding fee shifting and punitive damages should not apply in will contests.

Casale argued such liability would have a chilling effect on the practice of law. "I know a lot of practitioners who will stop doing wills and estates," he said. "It will just be too risky."

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