NJ Appellate Division Determined Executor Was Permitted to Represent Estate at Oral Argument

In the Matter of the Estate of Paruta, No. A-3456-17T2, 2019 WL 92244 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. Jan. 3, 2019).

The testator died with no immediate family and a will that left bequests to charities and individuals, including the defendant bank employee. The bank’s Code of Conduct and Ethics prohibited employees from accepting bequests from bank customers.  The employee had resigned from the bank before she learned about the bequest.

The trial court initially ruled that the defendant bank employee was not entitled to the bequest. The defendant bank employee then moved for reconsideration, and the trial judge agreed that there was nothing in the record to show corruption, bribery, or fraud and that the defendant left the bank months before the will was probated.  However, the executor argued there were no new facts available to support the reconsideration.  The court noted the testator was in his eighties when he died, he considered the defendant to be his friend, and the size of the bequest was only 1/11th of the residuary estate.  Thus, there was no indication of undue influence, and the trial judge found on reconsideration that he had originally misunderstood the timeline of events.

The Appellate Division affirmed and also addressed the argument by the Attorney General that a lay person could not represent the estate because the estate is an entity that requires representation by counsel. The court determined under the circumstances that it was appropriate for the executor to represent the estate when the attorney of record was not present for oral argument on the motion for reconsideration.  Notably, the court found, “[a]n estate is not a legal business or entity,” and therefore, an attorney hired to represent an estate represents the executor as a fiduciary and not the estate as an entity. Id. at *13 (quoting Estate of Lolio, 393 N.J. Super. 355 (App. Div. 2007)).