By Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a Freehold, NJ Estate Probate Litigation Attorney
In the last blog, I discussed with you why motivation to discriminate doesn’t matter to a court when determining if a Will, or portion of a Will, is invalid. Today, I will discuss with you the argument of invalidation based on “public policy” concerns. Courts do have the power, under common law, to invalidate a Will, or portions thereof, if it requires a beneficiary to do something that goes against public policy. For example, suppose you have a Will that states that you will give everything to your son “so long as he does not marry someone that is of the same sex as him.” Your son could go to court and challenge this provision of the Will should he be married to someone of the same sex, claiming that it is a violation of public policy. The provision would likely be struck down by the court, and the court would then order your son to get everything. With this backdrop, let us consider whether the disinheritance of Stacy because of religion counts as a violation of public policy in In the Matter of the Estate of Kenneth Jameson.
A quick re-hash of the facts for those of you who didn’t read the earlier blog. The decedent is Kenneth. His wife, who predeceased him, is Yvonne, and his daughter and the challenger of the Will is Stacy. Stacy went to college in 1982 and met Marc, Jewish, whom per parents disapproved of because he was Jewish. She started dating, and she was told she wasn’t welcome at her parents’ home anymore. In April 1987, both executed separate Wills, which gave their property to the surviving spouse. When both spouses died, the estate would go to a charitable organization to provide special education and rehabilitation to the mentally and physically handicapped, and if this organization did not provide those services, the estate would go to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Camden to do the same. The Will expressly disinherited Stacy, stating that the love given to her was not returned in any way and that Stacy acted with “selfishness, manipulation, cruelty…, abusiveness…, hatefulness and vindictiveness” towards her father. Marc and Stacy married, and they had three children, which Stacy’s parents never met. Stacy files a complaint seeking to have the Will thrown out of probate.
Stacy’s public policy argument is that Kenneth’s rejection of her relationship is a violation of public policy. But remember how and when the public policy argument comes into play. Kenneth’s Will never said that he gives everything to Stacy “so long as she does not marry a person who practices Judaism.” That would have likely been struck down. All the Will did was accuse Stacy of being a horrible person and then disinherited her. The court tied the public policy argument to the religious discrimination argument, stating that Stacy’s argument here was about the motivation of Kenneth. As we saw earlier, motivation is not a valid reason to invalidate disinheritances. Stacy’s public policy argument failed because the Will never made a mention of Kenneth disinheriting Stacy simply because she married a man of Jewish descent.
To discuss your NJ Estate Probate Litigation matter, please contact Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. toll-free at (855) 376-5291 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please ask us about our video conferencing consultations if you are unable to come to our office.