Acosta-Santana v. Santana, No. A-5646-16T4, 2018 WL 6332211

Acosta-Santana v. Santana, No. A-5646-16T4, 2018 WL 6332211 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. Dec. 5, 2018).

The plaintiff/wife was filing for divorce. The defendant/husband then executed a last will leaving his estate in equal shares for his and the plaintiff’s children. The defendant passed away before the entry of a final judgment of divorce. The executor of his estate filed a motion to interplead in the divorce action. The trial court denied that motion.  The executor argued that dismissing the divorce action resulted in unjust enrichment to the plaintiff/wife and harm to the defendant’s children and creditors. The Appellate Division affirmed, citing a traditional rule that, because the defendant died before the divorce proceedings concluded, the divorce proceedings abated.  Absent exceptional circumstances, equitable distribution would also abate. The court also rejected the argument that the decedent’s intent could not be fulfilled without a constructive trust, because most of the defendant’s property was held jointly with the plaintiff and the defendant was unable to change the beneficiaries of his insurance policies before he died.