Recent Cases – Will Interpretation

In McAuliffe vs. Benish, Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, plaintiffs, the adult daughters of the decedent testator, brought a lawsuit against the romantic partner of their deceased father, seeking an order directing her to pay the estate and inheritance taxes on the home that she inherited from the decedent as joint tenant with right of survivorship. Plaintiffs claimed that “taxes upon the property passing to defendant must be apportioned to her” because “decedent’s will contains no directions to the contrary.” The defendant romantic partner claimed that the language in decedent’s will, which directs his executor or administrator to pay all “estate and inheritance taxes imposed by reason of [his] death … with respect to any property, whether disposed of by this Will or otherwise,” required the estate to pay the taxes. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff adult daughters. On appeal, the appellate court reversed and remanded for discovery and trial. The appellate court held that, because the decedent’s will did not evidence a clear intent to overcome the statutory presumption of tax apportionment, but instead was ambiguous, the trial court should have admitted extrinsic evidence “to shed light on the testator’s actual intent.”