Haynes v. First National State Bank of New Jersey
87 N.J. 163, 432 A.2d 890 (1981)

  • Dutrow was a rich widow. She lived with her daughter (Haynes) and Haynes’ children for many years, until Haynes’ death.
    • Haynes’ children were a disappointment to Dutrow because they dodged the Vietnam draft.
  • After Haynes’ death, the elderly Dutrow moved in with her other daughter, Cotsworth.
  • Prior to moving in with Cotsworth, Dutrow’s will had been pretty evenly split between Haynes’ family and Cotsworth’s family. However, soon after moving in Dutrow made a new will that strongly favored the Cotsworth side.
    • The previous wills were prepared Stevens, who testified that Dutrow told him that she was being pressured by Cotsworth.
    • Dutrow’s latest will was prepared by Stevens and another lawyer named Buttermore just so happened to also be the Cotsworth’s attorney!
      • Conflict of interest maybe…?
    • Stevens wrote Buttermore a letter accusing him of undue influence.
  • Dutrow made a few codicils to the will including an in terrorem clause.
    • By the time all the codicils were executed, instead of splitting the estate $4M for Cotsworth’s children and $4M to Haynes’s children, the estate now gave $10k to Haynes’ children and the rest went into a trust controlled by Cotsworth.
    • A codicil is an amendment to a will.
    • An in terrorem clause says that anyone who contests the will is automatically disinherited.
  • Dutrow died, and Haynes’ children contested the will.
    • Haynes’ children claimed that Dutrow was suffering from undue influence.
  • The Trial Court found the will to be valid. Haynes’ children appealed.
    • The Trial Court found that there was a presumption of undue influence, but that the defense had rebutted that presumption at trial.
      • The Court found that while markedly different from previous plans, Dutrow’s final will was not unnatural or instinctively unsound.
    • The Trial Court did find that the in terrorem clause was unenforceable.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed. Haynes’ children appealed.
    • The Appellate Court not only found that the will was valid but also that the in terrorem clause was enforceable.
  • The New Jersey Supreme Court remanded the case of a new trial.
    • The New Jersey Supreme Court listed two factors for establishing a presumption of undue influence:
      • A confidential relationship between the testator and the beneficiary.
      • The presence of suspicious circumstances.
    • Once a presumption of undue influence is established, the burden shifts to the proponents of the will to provide a rebuttal.
      • The Trial Court felt that they had.
    • The New Jersey Supreme Court felt that Buttermore’s conflict of interest created the need for a higher burden of proof than normally exists in civil litigation.
      • Therefore, the proponents of the will need to establish by clear and convincing evidence that there was no undue influence.
      • Since the Trial Court had used an incorrect burden of proof, the case was remanded back for a new trial.
    • The New Jersey Supreme Court also declined to enforce an in terrorem clause in a will or trust agreement where there is probable cause to challenge the instrument.
  • The burden of proof for undue influence is always on the person contesting the will (aka the contestant). However, if they show that there is a confidential relationship, and the presence of suspicious circumstances, then the burden shifts to show that there was no undue influence. You can rebut the presumption with a preponderance of evidence if there is only one confidential relationship. If there are two relationships, you must rebut with clear and convincing evidence.
    • There are five categories of confidential relationships:
      • Priest -Penitent
      • Lawyer-Client
      • Doctor-Patient
      • Guardian-Ward
      • A Relationship of Trust
    • In this case, Buttermore was her lawyer and Cotsworth was in a relationship of trust. The two of them together counted as having two confidential relationships, which requires the higher standard of proof.
      • Buttermore had a conflict of interest and should have terminated representation.
    • In order to rebut the presumption, you have to show that the mind of the testator was able to resist the undue influence.
      • In this case, after being remanded for a new trial, Cotsworth and Buttermore were successfully able to rebut the presumption and got the $$$.