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Haynes v. First National State Bank of New Jersey

Supreme Court of New Jersey
432 A.2d 890 (1981)


Facts

The decedent, Isabel Dutrow (Dutrow) had two daughters, Betty Haynes, and Dorcas Cotsworth. Betty and her two sons came to live with Dutrow. Dutrow suffered from a number of physical infirmities due to her age, and relied heavily on Betty’s care. After Betty’s death, Dutrow moved in with Dorcas and her husband. Before moving in with the Cotsworths, Dutrow had executed many versions of her will, all of which treated the Haynes and Cotsworth family branches equally. These wills were drafted by Dutrow’s regular attorney. After moving in with the Cotsworths, at the Cotsworths’ suggestion Dutrow met with the Cotsworths’ family attorney, Buttermore. Dutrow then made a series of changes to her will and trusts, drafted by Buttermore, which eventually favored Dorcas exclusively, and omitted Betty’s sons completely from Dutrow’s estate plan. After Dutrow’s death, Betty’s sons (plaintiffs) brought suit against the executor of the will, First National State Bank of New Jersey and others (defendants), to set aside Dutrow’s most recent will and trusts, on the basis of undue influence. The trial court held that a presumption of undue influence arose under the circumstances, but that the Cotsworths rebutted the presumption by a preponderance of the evidence. The Appellate Division affirmed the trial court, and Betty’s sons appealed, arguing undue influence existed because Dutrow had a confidential relationship with the Cotsworths, and because Buttermore represented Dutrow and the Cotsworths and the Cotworth’s children.

Rule of Law

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Issue

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Holding and Reasoning (Handler, J.)

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  • A "yes" or "no" answer to the question framed in the issue section;
  • A summary of the majority or plurality opinion, using the CREAC method; and
  • The procedural disposition (e.g. reversed and remanded, affirmed, etc.).

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