NJ Appellate Division Held Appellants Should Not Be Deprived of Their Day in Court

In the Matter of Mildred Suesser, deceased, 2017 WL 5898961, No. A-0098-16T2 (N.J. App. Div. Nov. 29, 2017).

Appellants appealed a portion of the trial order declaring a deed to be valid, despite contentions that the deed was fatally defective and the product of undue influence.

Following the death of her husband the decedent was the fee simple owner of a condominium unit. Decedent subsequently executed a deed prepared by an attorney conveying her ownership interest to herself and respondent as tenants in common.  Approximately a year later, the attorney prepared a “correction deed” for the purpose of conveying the property as joint tenants with a right of survivorship.

Following her death, respondent filed a complaint seeking appointment of a temporary administrator, a judgment declaring the deed valid, and removal of decedent’s caregiver from the property. Appellants, co-executors of the estate, filed a complaint for probate of the will in solemn form and setting aside the caveat filed by respondent.  Appellants further argued the deed was fatally defective and the product of undue influence.

Despite such contentions, the trial court declared the deed valid pursuant to the statutory requirements of N.J.S.A. §46:4-1 et seq., and that the intention of the parties appeared clear from the face of the document.  The Appellate Division reversed, holding that the appellants should not be deprived of their “day in court” based on what seemed to have been a misunderstanding caused by counsel’s failure to effectively communicate their request for discovery and a plenary hearing.   Moreover, the appeals court was unable to determine whether the trial court correctly declared the deed valid because the judge failed to make any findings of fact supporting her determination or otherwise sufficiently expressing her reasoning as to whether the deed was the product of undue influence.

Thus, the appeals court vacated the portion of the order declaring the deed valid and remanded to further proceedings.