“The Will of the Most Impious Man Must Stand” Part 3 – Applicability of the Law Against Discrimination

By Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a Freehold, NJ Estate Probate Litigation Attorney

In this post, I will be discussing the claim that the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) applies to invalidate a Will. As you know, discrimination is prohibited in our society, no matter if the basis is on skin color or what religion you practice. Discrimination is prohibited in public housing and public accommodations. The prohibition extends to employment practices and the receipt of public assistance, and also applies to how one uses his or her land and disposes of his or her property. But does it extend to how one disposes of his or her property? Let us return back to In the Matter of the Estate of Kenneth Jameson to consider this question.

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 her 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 the 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.

We have eliminated religious discrimination, undue influence, and public policy as reasons to invalidate a Will. But what about the LAD? There is no statute in the LAD that makes it unlawful for a testator to disinherit based on a discriminatory motive, such as the religion of the spouse, the child and potential beneficiary marries. In a similar case concerning discrimination in the creation of a testamentary trust which selected student beneficiaries at a private institution based on religion and national origin, the Chancery Division rejected the argument that the law against discrimination should be invoked to invalidate the trust’s creation. There is no statutory basis for recognizing a cause of action when creating a Will that disinherits based on a discriminatory motive, and the court rightly held that the LAD is not involved in this type of case.

To discuss your NJ Estate Probate Litigation matter, please contact Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. toll-free at (855) 376-5291 or email him at fniemann@hnlawfirm.com.  Please ask us about our video conferencing consultations if you are unable to come to our office.