Appellate Division reverses trial court’s decision with regard to standing to contest a Will

   On August 14, 2012, In the Matter of the Probate of the Will of Darryl Fields, Superior Court ofNew Jersey, Appellate Division, Docket No. A-2349-10T2, the Court examined the issue of standing to contest a Will. 

   In Fields, the decedent executed a preprinted Will leaving his entire estate to his landlords.  Within two (2) months thereafter, the decedent died at the age of forty-eight (48).  A caveat was filed by a woman who asserted that she was the decedent’s daughter.  To prove that she was his daughter, she produced three documents: her birth certificate, her mother’s affidavit of paternity, and the certificate she signed authorizing the decedent’s cremation which could be signed only by a descendant. 

   The landlords, who were named in the decedent’s Will filed pleadings to probate the decedent’s Will.  On the return date, they argued that the Will was valid and that until the caveator established a parent-child relationship, she had no standing to contest the Will.    

   The landlords testified that they knew the decedent for some time and that the caveator had only contacted him on one occasion to invite him to her wedding.  The decedent never talked about her.  The decedent said that her mother had many partners. 

   The caveator testified that she was eleven (11) years old when she became aware that Fields was her father.  She chose not to be a part of his life, because he preferred alcohol and drugs to her company.  She never saw him.  Her sole contact was by phone. 

   Ultimately, after hearing the parties’ testimony, the trial court discharged the caveat and admitted the Will to probate.         

   On appeal, the Court concluded that the caveator had standing to contest the admission of the Will to probate and was entitled to a paternity hearing.  The pleadings framed the paternity issue sufficiently to allow the action to proceed.  Generally, a caveator must demonstrate that she would be aggrieved by the judgment of probate.  In re Estate of Margow, 77 N.J.316, 323 (1978).  As a putative next-of-kin, the caveator would be aggrieved by the judgment of probate since she would inherit his entire estate under intestacy.  Since she asserted in her pleadings that she was the decedent’s daughter and presented prima facie evidence thereof, the caveator had standing.

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