Following a daughter’s application to be appointed as guardian for her father, her brother objected and sought to be appointed as the guardian. Middlesex County Judge Frank M. Ciuffani held a four-day trial, during which it was established that the siblings had a contentious relationship and that the daughter had been named alternate executor under their father’s will. At the conclusion of the trial, Judge Ciuffani questioned the son’s motives for contesting the guardianship, and appointed the daughter as guardian.

In a subsequent application, the daughter/guardian sought permission to sell the ward’s rental property. The son opposed this request, and asked that the court consider removing his sister as guardian based upon alleged “self-dealing” and failure to implement a care plan. He claimed that their father was not thriving at his care facility, and that the guardian had failed to disclose all of their father’s assets.

The judge held a hearing on the application and ultimately rejected the son’s objections, thereby permitting the sale of the rental property.

The following year, the guardian filed a new complaint in which she sought permission to sell the ward’s personal residence to pay for his long-term institutionalized care. The son again opposed the application and sought his sister’s removal as guardian. He again claimed that the father’s health was declining (although he had been moved to a different care facility).

Judge Ciuffani noted that the ward’s estate had been depleted by $60,000 by the cost of the original trial, that the son’s newest counterclaim raised the same arguments as had been previously decided, and that another trial would further deplete the ward’s estate. He therefore dismissed the son’s counterclaim and permitted the sale of the residence, finding that a plenary hearing on the counterclaim was unnecessary.

On appeal, the son claimed that there were genuine issues of material fact that precluded the probate judge from dismissing his counterclaim without a hearing. The Appellate Division disagreed, and affirmed the probate court’s ruling.

The appellate court reviewed the New Jersey Rules of Court, which dictate that all actions in the Chancery Division, Probate Part be brought by order to show cause in a “summary manner,” the purpose of which is to expedite those actions and to avoid plenary hearings. In summary actions, as opposed to summary judgment actions, the court makes findings of fact, the opponent of the action is not granted favorable inferences, and, “if the court is satisfied with the sufficiency of the application, it shall order defendant to show cause why final judgment should not be rendered for the relief sought.” Thus, the probate judge is given broad discretion on summary proceedings “in determining the genuine nature of the factual dispute and whether the issue may merit a plenary hearing.” 

The Appellate Division noted that the probate judge had found that the son’s arguments and allegations mirrored those he raised unsuccessfully at the initial guardianship trial and at the first application to sell the ward’s property, and that no new competent proofs had been provided to support the most recent objections. The appellate court concluded that the probate judge had properly exercised his discretion in dispensing with a plenary hearing on the son’s latest claims.

A copy of In re Scuderi can be found here.    In re Scuderi    

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

For additional information concerning guardianships and fiduciary services, visit: