The decedent, Kathryn Parker Blair, had executed a will bequeathing her estate to her siblings and directing that, if any of her siblings predeceased her, that sibling’s share would pass to his or her surviving children. After her brother died, the decedent executed a new will omitting the brother’s child (“petitioner”) as a beneficiary. The new will was executed two days before the decedent died of cancer.

Petitioner challenged the new will, alleging lack of testamentary capacity and undue influence. In 2014, the chancery court granted summary judgment and dismissed the petitioner’s lawsuit for failure to present adequate evidence to support her claims.

The chancery court had found that, with regard to the lack of capacity claim, the petitioner had failed to establish any evidence to support the claim, and had not produced an expert report to support her claim; in contrast, the estate had produced evidence from two of the decedent’s friends, neither of whom had any interest in the estate, who certified that the decedent had testamentary capacity. She had also told one of these friends that she intended to disinherit some of her nieces and nephews. With regard to the claim of undue influence, the chancery court had concluded that the petitioner had presented no competent evidence of a confidential relationship between the executor of the will and the decedent, and that the petitioner’s claim of suspicious circumstances amounted to “nothing more than non-corroborated conjecture.” The petitioner’s claims were dismissed.

When petitioner’s motion for reconsideration of that dismissal was denied, she filed her first appeal to the Appellate Division, which found that her arguments were meritless and affirmed the chancery court’s rulings.

While the first appeal was pending, the petitioner filed a motion to vacate the orders on appeal, citing allegedly new evidence she had discovered; in response, the estate then filed a motion against the petitioner for frivolous litigation, seeking sanctions. Petitioner’s motion was denied, and the court imposed a $750 sanction against her for frivolous litigation. Petitioner appealed the sanction award.

In this second appeal, which I blogged about here, the Appellate Division vacated the sanction award, finding that the statute and rule permitting an award of frivolous litigation sanctions must be strictly construed, and that the estate filed a non-compliant certification to support its motion.

Thereafter, the petitioner filed a “request to reopen” before the chancery court, asking that the prior orders be reconsidered based on alleged filing errors and the technically non-compliant certification cited above. The chancery court found the petitioner’s arguments “fell significantly short of the standards for reconsideration.” The petitioner had already raised the same arguments in a 2014 filing, and “had three years (and two visits to the Appellate Division) to make her case.” The motion was denied.

On this third appeal to the Appellate Division, the chancery court’s ruling was affirmed. The appeals court ruled that there was insufficient merit to the petitioner’s claims to justify reversal of the motion for reconsideration, which is “a matter that is within the sound discretion of the court.”

 A copy of In re Estate of Blair can be found here –  In re Estate of Blair

For additional information concerning probate litigation and will contests, visit:

Will Contests and Probate Litigation



Donald D. Vanarelli has been a practicing attorney since 1983 in New Jersey and New York. Don provides legal services in the areas of elder law, estate planning, trust administration, special education, special needs planning and trial advocacy, including probate litigation, will contests, contested guardianships and elder abuse trials.

Don is a Certified Elder Law Attorney, an Accredited Veterans Attorney and a Past Chair of the Elder and Disability Law Section of the New Jersey State Bar Association. Don is a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award, the highest honor given by the New Jersey State Bar Association – Elder and Disability Law Section. The Lifetime Achievement Award is bestowed on an attorney with an established history of distinguished service who has made significant contributions in the field of elder and disability law throughout his or her career.

Don is actively involved in trial advocacy on behalf of elderly and disabled citizens. Don represented the plaintiff in a pivotal special needs trust case decided by the New Jersey Supreme Court entitled Saccone v. Police and Firemen’s Retirement System, 219 N.J. 369 (2014). He also represented the plaintiff in a seminal estate planning / guardianship / Medicaid planning case entitled In re Keri, 181 N.J. 50 (2004). Don was also co-counsel representing the plaintiff in Galletta v. Velez, Civil No. 13-532 (D.N.J. June 3, 2014) in which a federal court ruled, for the first time, that a pension from the Department of Veterans Affairs may not be counted as income in determining Medicaid eligibility.

When he’s not working, Don spends his time with his wife, Marion, and his three children, Julianne, Evan and Alex.