Articles Posted in Trusts & Estates

by
This appeal centered on challenges to several documents and disbursements that were purportedly executed by Adrian Folcher in the closing days of his life. Petitioner Bernice Tambascia-Folcher, Folcher's wife and a beneficiary, used that relationship to commit a pattern of fraud, forgery, and undue influence near the end of his life. After the conclusion of a lengthy estate contest, the trial court invoked that relationship, coupled with its finding of undue influence, to shift the Estate's counsel fees to Bernice. The issue for the Supreme Court's review was whether it should expand the narrow exception to the American Rule created in "In re Niles Trust," (176 N.J. 282 (2003)). After review of the trial court record, the Supreme Court declined to expand the Niles exception to a person who did not owe a fiduciary responsibility to the Estate and its beneficiaries, no matter how repugnant the conduct. "Because that confidential relationship endowed Bernice with an obligation to only her husband, and not the Estate, a fee award was not the proper vehicle to do equity. The trial court had other, unused means at its disposal for that." The Court remanded this case back to the trial court to vacate the fee award and to allow the court to consider other equitable relief that was foregone because fee-shifting mistakenly became an integral part of the court's equitable remedy. View "In the Matter of the Estate of Adrian J. Folcher" on Justia Law

by
This case arose out of the tragic death of Myroslava Kotsovska, who was fatally injured when defendant Saul Liebman, for whom decedent worked as a caretaker, inadvertently struck her with his car. Petitioner Olena Kotsovska, as administratrix of the decedent's estate, filed a wrongful death action against Liebman. Liebman did not dispute that decedent's injuries were the result of his negligence. Instead, Liebman argued that, because decedent was his employee, petitioner could recover only under the Workers Compensation Act. At trial, the judge instructed the jury that it would need to decide by a preponderance of the evidence whether decedent was an employee or an independent contractor and explained the factors that it should consider in reaching that conclusion. The judge also informed the jury that it should give whatever weight it deemed appropriate to the facts. The jury returned a verdict in favor of petitioner, found that decedent was an independent contractor and awarded decedent's estate a total of $525,000 in damages. Defendant appealed, and the Appellate Division reversed. Relying on the New Jersey Supreme Court's decisions in "Kristiansen v. Morgan," (153 N.J.298 (1998)), and "Wunschel v. City of Jersey City," (96 N.J.651 (1984)), the panel concluded that the Division had primary jurisdiction over the dispute regarding decedent's employment status. The panel rejected defendant's challenges to the damages award, reversed the judgment on liability only, and remanded the matter to the Division for a determination of decedent's employment status. The Supreme Court addressed the issue of whether the Compensation Act divested the Superior Court of jurisdiction to adjudicate the decedent's employment status once defendant raised an exclusive remedy provision of the Act as an affirmative defense. Further, the Court addressed whether the jury charge was deficient enough to require reversal. After review, the Supreme Court concluded that the Superior Court had concurrent jurisdiction to resolve the dispute based on the dispute over the decedent's employment status. Further, the Court could not conclude that the jury instruction given confused or otherwise mislead the jury. Consequently, the Court reversed the Appellant Division and reinstated the jury's verdict. View "Estate of Kotsovska v. Liebman" on Justia Law