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Legal Memorandum: Validity of a Will in NJ

Issue: What are some examples of ‘confidential relationships’ that the New Jersey courts have found give rise to undue influence for purposes of determining the validity of a will?

Area of Law: Estate Planning & Probate
Keywords: Confidential relationships; Validity of a will; Undue influence
Jurisdiction: New Jersey
Cited Cases: 88 A.2d 193; 40 A.2d 651; 87 N.J. 163; 825 A.2d 1209; 731 A.2d 95; 725 A.2d 90; 21 N.J. 50; 9 N.J. 283; 918 A.2d 649; 432 A.2d 890; 88 A.2d 194; 120 A.2d 745
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 08/01/2008

A presumption of undue influence arises in cases in which there is a “confidential relationship” between the testator and a beneficiary of the will.  A “confidential relationship” arises when the testator’s trust in the beneficiary arises from the testator’s weakness or dependence, or when the relationship of the parties was such that reliance is naturally inspired or in fact exists.  Haynes v. First Nat’l State Bank of New Jersey, 87 N.J. 163, 176, 432 A.2d 890, 896 (1981), citing In Re Hopper, 9 N.J. 280, 282, 88 A.2d 193 (1952).

One of the most common relationships that has been found to be a confidential relationship is that of an attorney’s relationship with a client.  This is particularly true when the attorney drafted the will that makes him or her a beneficiary.  Cases finding a confidential relationship in these circumstances include Haynes, supra (attorney who drafted the will was also the attorney for the main beneficiary of the will), In Re Blake’s Will, 21 N.J. 50, 120 A.2d 745 (1945). (long-time attorney and social acquaintance of an elderly, ill testator), and In Re Heim’s Will, 136 N.J. Eq. 138, 40 A.2d 651 (1945) (attorney who drafted the will on behalf of a senile testator was also the beneficiary of the estate).  It is significant that, in all of these cases, it was not the mere existence of the attorney-client relationship that gave rise to […]

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