When it comes to making wills, people’s worst instincts can come out. Children and others can be disinherited for unreasonable and sometimes malicious reasons. But New Jersey courts are not concerned about why someone wrote his or her will in a certain way, unless there is undue influence or fraud. Recently, a New Jersey Appeals Court upheld a will that disinherited a child based on discrimination.
The case dealt with the estate of Kenneth Jameson, who died in April 2014. The will was contested by his daughter, Stacy Wolin, who claimed that she was disinherited because she fell in love with a Jewish man.
Stacy met the man, Marc Wolin, in college. Once her parents were told about the relationship, they forbade her from any interaction with Wolin and eventually removed her from college.
Later, Stacy was allowed to return to school and again began dating Marc. She was not allowed to return home and ended up living with a cousin and with Marc’s family. She put herself through school with loans and student aid.
In her lawsuit challenging her father’s will, Stacy claimed that he once struck her during a visit to the college, threatened to harm Marc, and confronted Marc’s rabbi for brainwashing his daughter. In 1987, the same year Stacy graduated, her father signed the contested will, leaving all his assets to his wife, and if she died, to a church.
The father specified in his will that Stacy was to get nothing, specifically that “I found that the love, care and concern which I lavished on my daughter was not acknowledged or returned in any way by my daughter.'” The will also claimed that Stacy was cruel and abusive towards him.
In April 2014, the father died and the will was admitted into court. His wife had passed 3 years prior, which meant that the estate’s assets would go to the church. But Stacy challenged the will, claiming that: 1) she was never abusive towards her father; 2) her mother, who was Anti-Semitic, had an undue influence on her father; 3) she was disowned entirely because of her relationship with Marc; 4) religious discrimination; 5) vagueness based on no mentioning of the children in the will; and 6) libel.
Ultimately, the Court rejected all of Stacy’s claims. It wrote that the father’s motivation for the disinheritance did not permit or require the setting aside of his will. The Court added that that a will is voidable if it imposes a condition that violates public policy. This case, it said, did not such thing. The court rejected the vagueness claim because as the court put it, the will was “unambiguous and unequivocal.” On the discrimination claims, it wrote that “the will of the most impious man must stand,” referring to a 1956 case. Omar Bareentto is a 2016 Rutgers School of Law graduate and a former contributor to the Rutgers Business Law Review. He collaborated with me on this blog.