No Attorneys’ Fees Awarded In Will Contest Where Case Had “Obvious Legal and Factual Weakness[es]”

In re the Estate of Connolly, No. A-3855-17T1, 2019 WL 1578804 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. Apr. 12, 2019).

This case involves a purported will drafted by an attorney who never met the decedent.  The attorney drafted the will based on a telephone conversation he had with the decedent, who was then ninety (90) years old and in fragile health.  The decedent died the day after that telephone conversation.

The Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s finding that the decedent never reviewed the completed draft will nor even saw it; she did not give her final approval of the document. Accordingly, the appeals court agreed with the trial court that In re Probate of Will and Codicil of Macool, 416 N.J. Super. 298 (App. Div. 2010), was directly on point and barred the claim for probate.

Furthermore, the Appellate Division found there was no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s decision to deny the counsel fee application, “in light of the obvious legal and factual weakness of their case.” Id. at *4.  The Court relied on Rule 4:42-9(a)(3) and In re Reisdorf, 80 N.J. 319, 326 (1979), where the New Jersey Supreme Court opined that counsel fees will ordinarily be awarded to both sides in a will contest “[e]xcept in a weak and meretricious case.” Id.