On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Probate Part, Bergen County, Docket No. P-245-06.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Lihotz and Simonelli.
We review the probate court's conclusion to admit to probate a November 4, 2002 writing, presented by Anna K. Junk (claimant). The trial judge determined the document reflected the necessary testamentary intent required by N.J.S.A. 3B:3-3 to be an addition to decedent's will.
Ronald Worgul and Suzanne Pappano are decedent's adult children (heirs). Decedent Basil V. Worgul died on January 19, 2006. Ronald is the administrator of decedent's estate. It is not disputed that the November 4, 2002 document was signed by decedent when prepared and additionally signed by him on December 3, 2003 and August 5, 2004. The document stated decedent's desire to be cremated and have his ashes dispersed in the Hudson River. It also directed that a condominium, purchased by decedent in October 2000, which was the primary residence of claimant and decedent, be given to claimant.
During the two-day bench trial, the parties introduced testimony and extrinsic evidence of events occurring prior and subsequent to the execution of the presented document. In a written opinion, the trial judge presented his factual findings, including assessments of credibility, and legal conclusions. Judge Doyne concluded the document "clearly expresses a testamentary intent by which [decedent] directed the condominium should pass to [claimant.]"
On appeal, the heirs argue that claimant failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the decedent intended the document to be a codicil to his will executed on April 27, 1983. Further, the heirs maintain the writing was not a defectively executed codicil, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 3B:3-3(3), as it lacked testamentary intent.
Findings by a trial judge sitting without a jury are deemed binding on appeal when supported by adequate, substantial and credible evidence, and we will not disturb them unless we are convinced that they are so manifestly unsupported by or inconsistent with the competent, relevant, and reasonably credible evidence as to offend the interests of justice. Rova Farms Resort, Inc. v. Investors Ins. Co. of Am., 65 N.J. 474, 484 (1974). Following our review of the record, we are satisfied that Judge Doyne's factual findings are amply supported by substantial, credible evidence, and we have no occasion to disturb them. Ibid.
Further, the judge correctly interpreted and applied the law, concluding that clear and convincing evidence evinced decedent's intent that the November 4, 2002 writing was a codicil to decedent's will. N.J.S.A. 3B:3-3(3). We, therefore, affirm substantially for the reasons stated by Judge Doyne in his comprehensive written decision dated June 19, 2007.
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