Spouse contests deceased husband's will.

Court rules that although decedent executed his will years before marrying wife, wife is not entitled to a portion of his estate

The decedent executed his Last Will and Testament more than a decade before he met Deborah, who was his sixth wife and the surviving spouse at the time of his death. The Will left the decedent’s estate to his four children.

Because Deborah was omitted from the will, she filed a probate action under New Jersey Statute N.J.S.A. 3B:5-15(a), which addresses “premarital wills.” (She did not seek relief under the Elective Share statute, N.J.S.A. 3B:8-1 et seq.)

The Premarital Will statute provides that a surviving spouse who married the testator after execution of the testator’s will is,

entitled to receive, as an intestate share, no less than the value of the share of the estate the surviving spouse…would have received if the testator had died intestate…

    However, the statute dictates that the surviving spouse is barred from receiving this share if any of the following circumstances exists:

  1. It appears from the will or other evidence that the will was made in contemplation of the testator’s marriage to the surviving spouse…;
  2. The will expresses the intention that it is to be effective notwithstanding any subsequent marriage…; or,
  3. The testator provided for the spouse… by transfer outside the will and the intent that the transfer be made in lieu of a testamentary provision is shown by the testator’s statements or is reasonably inferred from the amount of the transfer or other evidence.

The case hinged on the third circumstance listed above. The decedent had named Deborah the beneficiary of his $200,000 insurance policy, as well as beneficiary of two retirement accounts totaling approximately $57,000. First, the court considered whether the decedent’s children had proven that the decedent intended those transfers to be “in lieu of a testamentary provision.” No testimony was offered to suggest that the decedent had made statements that those transfers were in lieu of a testamentary disposition to Deborah. Next, the court considered whether it could be “reasonably inferred” that those transfers to Deborah were in lieu of a testamentary disposition. The court concluded that this could be reasonably inferred. Given that the decedent’s estate totaled just over $1 million at the time of his death, each of his children would receive approximately $250,000 under his will. The fact that the transfers to Deborah amounted to approximately $250,000, the court found this to be “more than just a coincidence.” The judge found that this intention was further supported by Deborah’s testimony that, despite her requests that the decedent “make a Will,” the decedent refused.

Consequently, the court dismissed Deborah’s complaint.

A copy of In re Estate of Reinitz, Jr. can be found here.