A New Jersey appeals court recently affirmed a trial court judgment dividing the assets remaining in a supplemental needs trust established for a deceased adult child with special needs between the child’s parents even though the biological father was a “deadbeat dad,” paying no child support, contributing nothing to his daughter’s medical care and visiting his daughter less than a dozen times in her 22 short years of life. In the Matter of Jennifer Rogiers, Deceased (N.J. Super. Ct., App. Div., No. A-0389-10T1, Aug. 21, 2012) (unpublished).

Ruben Martinez and Rosa Rogiers are the parents of Jennifer Rogiers, who was severely handicapped at her birth in 1983 as a result of a cervical cord injury. Jennifer’s mother, Rosa Rogiers, filed a medical malpractice claim on Jennifer’s behalf and recovered a $ 2.6 million judgment that was placed in a special needs trust for Jennifer’s benefit. The special needs trust stated that upon Jennifer’s death, the funds remaining in the trust would be distributed to her heirs at law, if she did not otherwise exercise a power of appointment in her will. In 2005, Jennifer died intestate, without children, and without exercising the power of appointment.

After Jennifer’s death, her biological father, Mr. Martinez, sought half of the approx. $1.1 million remaining trust funds as his share of her estate under the terms of the special needs trust. Jennifer’s mother, Ms. Rogiers, objected to the division, claiming that Martinez did not deserve any of the remaining funds because he was a “deadbeat dad” who paid no child support while Jennifer was alive, contributed nothing to his daughter’s medical care and visited his daughter less than a dozen times during her life. Throughout her lifetime, Jennifer was in her mother’s custody. In addition, Ms. Rogiers requested repayment of $441,391.16 in expenses that she claimed to have incurred in caring for Jennifer. In response, Martinez claimed New Jersey’s probate law does not impose any obligation of support or care upon a parent in order to inherit from a child.

After a bench trial, the trial court ruled that Martinez was entitled to one-half of Jenifer’s estate because:

The order [creating the trust] states that upon Jennifer’s death, “[a]ny portion of the principal and undistributed income of [the Trust] . . . which she shall not have validly appointed by her Last Will and Testament . . . shall be paid over and distributed to the persons who would be entitled to receive the property under the laws of the State of New Jersey then in force and in the proportions prescribed by such laws as if the primary beneficiary had then died intestate and a resident of the State of New Jersey.

The trial court also awarded $441,391.16 to Ms. Rogiers to reimburse her for expenses that she incurred caring for Jennifer, noting that Jennifer required “24 hour a day care.”

On appeal, the appellate court affirmed, becoming the first New Jersey appeals court to decide that a parent’s right to inherit from a child’s estate is not dependent upon the parent having supported the child during the child’s lifetime.

The Rogiers decision is annexed here – In the Matter of Jennifer Rogiers, Deceased