Dispute between co-executors

In the Matter of the Estate of Trocolor, Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, Docket No. A-5005-09T3, the Court addressed a dispute between two siblings who were co-executors of their mother’s estate.

The plaintiff alleged that the other co-executor and another individual misappropriated substantial sums of money from three reverse mortgages. The defendants filed a counterclaim alleging that the plaintiff had also misappropriated sums of money. Initially, the trial judge put all parties on notice that if either side proved that the other side looted their mother’s estate and defrauded her that he might, as an equitable remedy, bar the guilty party from inheriting from the estate. Neither party objected.

At trial, the judge found the plaintiff to be credible and that she had not misappropriated any money. The defendant – the other co-executor – admitted taking at least $200,000.00 from the proceeds of those mortgages to pay for improvements to his own house and his children’s college tuition, and claimed that his mother knew about, and approved of, those expenditures. In support of his allegations he produced a purported gift letter from his mother. However, the trial judge found the co-executor to be a completely incredible witness. In conclusion, the defendant co-executor was ordered to repay the money he took from his mother, along with punitive damages and counsel fees. The trial judge also ruled that the co-executor could not share in the estate.

The Appellate Division will not disturb a trial judge’s determination so long as the findings are supported by substantial credible evidence in the record. Particular deference is given to the judge’s credibility determinations. In this case, the trial judge properly required both sides to prove their respective claims by clear and convincing evidence. Following their presentations, the trial judge made reasonable credibility determinations. As a result, the Appellate Division refused to overturn the trial judge’s conclusions.