An 82-year old widow living on Social Security benefits borrowed over $400,000 and signed mortgage documents calling for the loan to be repaid in monthly installments over 30 years. The bank brought a foreclosure action, claiming that the mortgage was a conventional mortgage and that the widow had defaulted on the payments.

The widow claimed that she was falsely induced by a “financial advisor” to believe she was entering into a reverse mortgage, in which no payments would be made during her lifetime. She claimed that the advisor took her to the bank to sign the mortgage documents, and that the advisor later absconded with the mortgage proceeds.

The Chancery Court had allowed paper discovery but not depositions, and denied the widow’s request to depose bank employees who were involved in the transaction. The Chancery Court granted summary judgment and granted a final foreclosure judgment in favor of the bank.

On appeal, the Appellate Division reversed, finding genuine issues of material fact precluded summary judgment. It noted that the loan transaction “presents more questions than it answers.” The bank had agreed to lend $400,000 to an 82-year old whose monthly income was just over $1,600, and the loan documents indicated that the mortgage was approved the same day it was submitted telephonically by the widow.

In sum, the bank had presented a prima facie case establishing its right to foreclosure, based on the loan documents that the widow had executed. Nevertheless, the appeals court found that, given the “unique nature” of the case, the widow was entitled to additional discovery. The case was remanded for further proceedings.

The case is attached here – Wells Fargo v. AG

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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. Recently, Don was selected by the New Jersey Law Journal as a Top Rated New Jersey Lawyer in 2019.

Don is actively involved in trial advocacy on behalf of elderly and disabled citizens. Don was lead counsel representing the plaintiff in a seminal estate planning / guardianship / Medicaid planning case entitled In re Keri, 181 N.J. 50 (2004), in which the New Jersey Supreme Court, for the first time, permitted guardians to engage in public benefits planning to obtain Medicaid eligibility for their wards. Don also represented the plaintiff in a pivotal case entitled Saccone v. Police and Firemen’s Retirement System, 219 N.J. 369 (2014) in which the New Jersey Supreme Court, for the first time, permitted a special needs trust to be designated as the beneficiary of a state pension. 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 time with his wife, Marion, and his three children, Julianne, Evan and Alex.