Trusts & Estates
NJ Considers Punitives in Will Contests
Posted Oct 17, 2007 5:33 AM CST
By Debra Cassens Weiss
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."