On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Burlington County.
Approved for Publication February 4, 1997. As Corrected March 20, 1997.
Before Judges Dreier and D'Annunzio. The opinion of the court was delivered by Dreier, P.j.a.d.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dreier
The opinion of the court was delivered by
Defendants, Michael W. and Louise T. Alcott, appeal from an order of the Chancery Division, Probate Part, requiring them to reimburse the Estate of Mabel M. Baker in the amount of $18,150, representing the transfer inheritance tax paid as a result of the inter vivos transfer to defendants of decedent's Medford, New Jersey home. Decedent Mabel Baker executed her Last Will and Testament on June 13, 1994, specifically devising to Michael Alcott the Medford property she owned. The will also contained a tax apportionment clause which would have relieved Michael of the burden of estate and inheritance taxes on the property. Approximately two weeks later, on June 29, 1994, decedent executed a deed transferring the property to herself and defendants as joint tenants.
Decedent died at the age of ninety-nine on May 20, 1995. She was survived by the children of her nieces and nephews. Decedent's will was admitted to probate by the Burlington County Surrogate's Court on June 13, 1995. Also on that date, Letters Testamentary were issued to plaintiffs Karen A. Cutler and William F. Alcott, the co-executors appointed in the will.
Decedent's will contained the following tax apportionment clause:
I ... direct that all estate and inheritance taxes be paid from the general funds of my estate in order that the beneficiaries hereinafter named may receive the full legacies or devises so given to them.
Further, the "general funds" to be used for the payment of decedent's "debts, funeral expenses, taxes and administration costs, as provided in the [tax apportionment clause]" were defined as "the net proceeds from all [decedent's] bank accounts and certificates of deposit...."
In paragraph two of her will, decedent specifically devised her property at 84 North Main Street, Medford, to her grandnephew, defendant Michael Alcott. This was the same property that was deeded to Michael, his wife, and decedent as joint tenants slightly more than two weeks after the execution of the will. *fn1
The issue in this case is whether decedent's direction in her will for the inheritance taxes to be paid from the "general funds" of her estate should be applied to the real estate deeded to defendants. Plaintiffs obtained an order to show cause why defendants should not be required to pay the inheritance taxes on the real estate. R. 4:95-2. After argument on the return date of the order, the Judge determined that the inheritance taxes on the deeded property were not to be paid by the estate.
Defendants argue that the trial court should have at least inquired into decedent's dominate intent because of the "unusual circumstances" of the deed making defendants and decedent joint tenants despite the fact that the will devised the same property to Michael alone. Defendants believe they were entitled to "present testimony of vital participants to the preparation and execution of the Will and Deed instruments."
The trial court noted that what decedent was communicating in the will, and the effect of the ...