New Jersey Court Has Jurisdiction Over Estate Of New Jersey Domiciliary; Ex-Wife Has No Standing To Challenge Jurisdiction

The decedent’s will was admitted into probate in Bergen County, New Jersey, after the court found that he was a New Jersey domiciliary at the time of his death. His ex-wife sought to challenge New Jersey’s jurisdiction, claiming that the decedent was a New York domiciliary.

The decedent had died unexpectedly in July 2016, during a visit to Israel. He was a U.S. citizen who lived in New Jersey during his first marriage, and then lived in various New York apartments. He also had apartments in Israel, Florida and Spain.

The decedent was married a second time and lived with his second wife in New York in 2012. The parties separated and entered a post-nuptial agreement in 2014. In 2015, their New York divorce action resulted in a Stipulation of Settlement, including a waiver of future rights under any wills. Although the judgment of divorce was entered in April 2016, it was not filed by the clerk’s office until three months later, after the decedent’s death.

Because of the late filing of the judgment, the ex-wife claimed that she and the decedent were still married at the time of his death. She also claimed that the decedent was domiciled in New York, not New Jersey, so the New Jersey courts lacked jurisdiction.

The court concluded that the decedent was a New Jersey domiciliary at the time of his death. Even though he had not lived in New Jersey since his first divorce, he maintained a New Jersey driver’s license, spent most of his time with his children in New Jersey, kept vehicles and a boat in New Jersey, maintained insurance with a New Jersey address, kept his voter registration in New Jersey, and filed New Jersey resident income tax returns through 2014 (he died before filing the 2015 returns).

The court also concluded that the ex-wife was not a surviving spouse or beneficiary of the estate, so she lacked standing to challenge jurisdiction.

After the ex-wife filed a motion for reconsideration, the court denied her reconsideration motion and granted the estate’s motion for frivolous litigation. It found that her reconsideration motion completely ignored the court’s threshold determination, that she lacked standing in the case, and therefore lacked merit and “was without any support under existing law or any good-faith extension of existing law.”

On appeal, the chancery judge’s rulings were affirmed. The appellate court noted that, with regard to the late filing of the divorce judgment, the filing was a “mere ministerial act,” and that the final adjudication had occurred during the decedent’s lifetime. In addition, in the divorce Stipulation of Settlement, the ex-wife had relinquished all rights with respect to the decedent’s estate. Consequently, the ex-wife lacked standing to assert the jurisdictional argument. Her reconsideration motion also failed with respect to her argument that New Jersey was not the decedent’s domicile. Finally, because she caused the estate to incur unnecessary fees by filing the motion for reconsideration while completely failing to address the threshold standing issue, the frivolous litigation sanctions were affirmed.

A copy of In re Koby can be found here – In re Koby

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