Estate Attorneys New Jersey

Decedent’s Will, and not his signed beneficiary designation, controlled the disposition of his IRA

In a recent case decided by the New Jersey Appellate Division, In the Matter of the Estate of Charles Polk, Deceased, a Decedent’s signed beneficiary designation did not control the disposition of his IRA, instead, the Court decided that his Will should control.

Charles Polk had received Exxon stock from his deceased wife which was held in an IRA for his benefit.  After his wife’s death, he opened an IRA in his own name which continued to hold the Exxon stock.  At the time, he signed a beneficiary designation naming his niece as beneficiary.  A few years later, he contacted a New Jersey Estate Attorney and executed a Will directing that the Exxon stock be distributed to several beneficiaries, contrary to the beneficiary designation.  The beneficiary designation was never changed, and after Charles Polk’s death, the beneficiaries under his Will filed suit seeking an Order requiring the stock to be distributed pursuant to the terms of his Will.

Photo of Russell J. Fishkind, Esq. A New Jersey attorney specializing in estate and probate litigation.

The Court allowed discovery in the matter.  It is important to note that an experienced Estate Attorney in New Jersey is important at this stage of the litigation as the evidence produced in discovery often controls the outcome of the case.

In fact, after discovery was conducted, counsel for the parties agreed to hold a trial on one issue, whether there was clear and convincing evidence that Decedent intended for his Will to control the disposition of the stock.  The trial Court held the hearing, and the evidence, including the testimony of the scrivener, supported Decedent’s intent that the Exxon stock be distributed to the beneficiaries named in his Will, and not to his niece as per his signed beneficiary designation.  The Appellate Division agreed.

It was not until an adverse decision was reached in the trial Court, that the issue of the substantial compliance doctrine and the effect of Decedent’s failure to execute a new beneficiary designation was argued.  The Appellate Division refused to consider this argument as it was not brought up until the appeal was filed.  Simply, the evidence produced as trial supported Decedent’s intentions to devise the stock under his Will and therefore the Will should control.

Hiring the right Estate Attorney in New Jersey can make all the difference in litigating estate disputes.  We are experienced in handling Estate and Trust Litigation and Will Contests cases in New Jersey and New York and have proved to be an efficient resource for clients in resolving disputes.  We hope The Probate Litigation Resource Center is a useful resource to you.  Should you wish to consult with an attorney regarding your particular issue, feel free to contact us.