On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Civil Part, Chancery Division, Atlantic County, C-116-05.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted: September 24, 2007
Before Judges A.A. Rodríguez and C.L. Miniman.
This is an appeal from a final order of ejectment from a home in Brigantine in favor of plaintiff Henry T. "Rick" DiMeglio and against defendant Denise DiMeglio. The final judgment dismissed Denise's counterclaim, which asserted that the inter vivos deed from her husband, Henry J. DiMeglio, to Rick, his only surviving child, was the fruit of undue influence exerted by Rick, with whom Henry had an alleged confidential relationship. The final judgment also dismissed Rick's claims that the marriage of Denise and Henry was void and the transfers of pay-on-death bank accounts in favor of Rick to pay-on-death accounts in favor of Denise and Rick were invalid. No appeal was taken from these determinations. We affirm.
Henry, a retired supervising aircraft mechanic, was in his late eighties when he passed away. Several years after the death of Henry's first wife in 1984, he moved from Maryland to Brigantine, where he purchased the home that is the subject of this appeal.
Henry had very little formal education. He did not graduate from high school as a youth, but eventually earned a GED. Rick and several other witnesses described Henry as an extremely "self-sufficient" and "independent man." He did not rely on Rick in any way. In fact, even as Henry progressed in age, he never requested any help managing his financial affairs, performing physical tasks or securing medical care.
Rick is a college graduate with degrees in commerce and finance, with a concentration in accounting. For many years, he worked as a certified public accountant, but more recently has been employed in the aviation industry as a pilot for a private company. He is currently married, has a young daughter and lives in Florida.
Rick described his relationship with his father as fairly "typical." He testified that they were "close," but admitted that he visited his father less frequently throughout the years because they lived such a distance apart. Rick encouraged Henry to move to Florida so they could see each other more frequently. Rick admitted that he did not see his father between March 2003 and April 2005, when his father was admitted to the hospital. Rick, however, stayed in close telephone contact with Henry.
In the early 1990s, Henry became friendly with Pete J. Capalino. On almost a daily basis Henry and Pete would go to Atlantic City to the casino where Denise worked. Through Pete, Henry became friendly with Denise. Pete died on May 22, 1994, but Henry and Denise remained friends throughout the years. Denise began to share Henry's home in the late 1990s but the relationship was purely platonic, not marital.
In 2000 Rick and Henry had several conversations about estate planning and discussed the importance of drafting a will. Henry told Rick that he already had a will and showed him a handwritten paper with "cross outs" on the face of the document. Rick testified that he did not read the document in any great detail. However, having concerns about its potential validity and efficacy, Rick encouraged Henry to draft a new will.
Thereafter, Henry told Rick that Rick was the beneficiary of several sizeable payable-on-death accounts. Henry stated that, as his only son, Rick would also inherit Henry's home upon his death. Rick repeated his earlier suggestion that Henry prepare a will effectuating his stated intentions, but Henry insisted that he could simply transfer his home to Rick.
Rick testified that he initially recommended that he and his father hold joint ownership of the house, but Henry wished to transfer sole title to Rick. Rick told Henry that the next step would be to contact a title company to transfer the property. Henry, however, preferred to have Rick handle all of the details related to the transfer, which Rick agreed to do. Henry never obtained any outside legal advice related to the transfer.
Rick then contacted a title company in New York. He told the title company that his father wished to transfer property to him and, thereafter, an attorney prepared a deed to that effect. When Rick received the deed, he contacted Henry to notify him that he would be mailing the deed to him for his execution. After Henry received the deed, he executed the document. The effective date of the deed was September 6, 2000. Immediately following the transfer, Rick told his father that he needed to file a gift-tax ...