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Legal Memorandum: Undue Influence and Validity of a Will

Issue: How do New Jersey courts define ‘undue influence’ for purposes of determining the validity of a will?

Area of Law: Estate Planning & Probate
Keywords: Undue influence; Validity of a will
Jurisdiction: New Jersey
Cited Cases: 936 A.2d 1015; 87 N.J. 163; 21 N.J. 50; 120 A.2d 745; 176 N.J. 282
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 08/01/2008

New Jersey law defines undue influence, for purposes of determining the validity of a will, in terms of coercion brought against the testator.  Thus, the courts have generally defined undue influence as

Mental, moral or physical exertion which has destroyed the free agency of a testator by preventing a testator from following the dictates of his own mind and will and accepting instead the domination and influence of another.

 

In Re Estate of Lunsford, No. CP-0219-2006 (App. Div. Aug. 5, 2008) (unreported), citing In Re Niles Trust, 176 N.J. 282, 299, 823 A.2d 1, 9 (2003).  Suggestion or persuasion alone will not constitute undue influence if the testator’s freedom of will remains intact.  In Re Blake’s Will, 21 N.J. 50, 56, 120 A.2d 745, 747 (1945).  Although some case law has referred to the possibility of establishing undue influence through fraud, see, e.g., Garruto v. Cannici, 397 N.J. Super. 231, 239, 936 A.2d 1015 (App. Div. 2007),*FN1 the main issue in cases involving claims of undue influence remains coercion, not deception.  Haynes v. First Nat’l State Bank of New Jersey, 87 N.J. 163, 176, 432 A.2d 890, 897 (1981).


FOOTNOTES


*FN1 Garruto was not a will contest, but was a tort claim for “tortious interference with interference of expected inheritance,” a cause of action not recognized by New […]

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