On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division-Probate Part, Hunterdon County.
Bilder, Gaynor and Scalera. The opinion of the court was delivered by Gaynor, J.A.D.
This is an appeal from a judgment admitting a holographic will to probate. In challenging this determination of the trial court, appellants contend the alleged will is not a valid holographic will under N.J.S.A. 3B:3-3 as the deceased failed to sign the instrument and the document was never completed or pages had been omitted from the document as originally prepared.
The facts giving rise to this proceeding are not in dispute. The decedent died on May 4, 1985, a resident of East Amwell Township, Hunterdon County. He was survived by two sisters, Ida Goldband and Pauline Bellen, and three children of a deceased brother, Marcia Neuhauser, Betty Siegel and Sol Siegel. Betty Siegel is totally incapacitated and confined to a nursing home under the guardianship of her brother. Because of his poor health, decedent had been residing with Marcia Neuhauser and being cared for by her for approximately nine months prior to his death. When decedent had been very ill and hospitalized he summoned Mrs. Neuhauser and informed her that he had written his own will in which he had provided that his estate be divided equally between his sisters, Ida and Pauline, his nephew Sol, and his niece, Marcia. Decedent was then aware of Betty's incompetency and her consequent confinement but he expressed no interest in including her, or any other person, as a beneficiary of his estate.
When Mrs. Neuhauser was examining the contents of the East Amwell residence after Mr. Siegel's death, she found the purported will. It was written on the last page of a writing tablet which had been placed, together with the ownership certificate of decedent's automobile and family pictures, in between pages of an old book. The alleged will was a handwritten document consisting of a title sentence and three paragraphs. It is undisputed that the handwriting was that of the decedent. The title sentence included decedent's name and the first paragraph introduced the decedent and again reproduced
his name. This paragraph also stated his place of residence and declared the document to be his last will and testament. In the next paragraph, his executrix "hereinafter named" was directed to pay his debts and funeral expenses. The last paragraph devised and bequeathed "all the rest and residue of my estate . . . in equal shares, to my sisters, Ida London, Pauline Bellen, and my nephew Sol Siegel, my niece Marcia Neuhauser".*fn1 There was no punctuation mark at the end of this paragraph.
In September 1985 Mrs. Neuhauser filed the complaint herein for the probate of decedent's holographic will and appointment as Administratrix of the estate with the will annexed. Renunciations in favor of Mrs. Neuhauser had been executed by Ida Goldband and Pauline Bellen. Pursuant to an Order to Show Cause, the probate application was the subject of a hearing before the trial court. Children of Mrs. Goldband and Mrs. Bellen appeared and objected to the probate of the holographic will pending the family's discussion of the matter and decision as to a position. Following are pertinent portions of the colloquy which took place between the court and Seymour London, son of Ida Goldband, at this proceeding:
THE COURT: Well, you know of no legal objections that you have at this point to the holographic will, I take it.
THE WITNESS: I have not -- I am not conversant with the laws of New Jersey.
No, I have no objections at this point.
However, I would like to reserve whatever rights we may have to file any responsive pleadings in this respect if they become necessary, or seek counsel in this respect if it become necessary.
THE COURT: Well, how much time -- you indicate that you would like some time to discuss it among the ...