On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Essex County, Docket No. CP-0057-2009.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Cuff, Miniman and Waugh.
Appellant Virginia Jeffries appeals the order of the Probate Part admitting the document denominated as the Last Will and Testament of Albertha Blackwell to probate. We reverse and remand for a plenary hearing.
We glean the following facts and procedural history from the record.
Albertha Blackwell died on November 15, 2008, at the age of seventy-six. She was survived by six adult children, several adult grandchildren, and one minor granddaughter, A.Q. It appears that, at the time of her death, Blackwell had joint legal custody of A.Q., whose mother, one of Blackwell's daughters, had died in 2003. It is our understanding that A.Q. lived with her other legal guardian, plaintiff Donna Blackwell-Wooton, one of her maternal aunts.
An undated document purporting to be Blackwell's Will named A.Q., who was then sixteen, as the sole beneficiary of Blackwell's estate, and appointed two of Blackwell's daughters, plaintiffs Blackwell-Wooten and Linda Lee, as co-executors. In the event A.Q. were to have predeceased Blackwell, her estate was to be divided among Blackwell's surviving children.
The purported Will consists of six pages, the first five of which contain what purports to be Blackwell's signature on the side of each page. The signature appears twice on the fifth page, including once on the side of the page. In addition, the signature appears below the following language:
IN WITNESS, I assign my name to this instrument, publish and declare that it is my Will, consisting of six (6) pages, inclusive of the attestation and acknowledgment clauses, this is my free and voluntary act for the purposes herein expressed, and that I am eighteen (18) years of age or older, of sound mind, and under no constraint or undue influence.
The last page of the purported Will, which is numbered "6," is signed by two witnesses, Beverly Johnson and Bessie Dunk, both of whom have certified that they were working for the scrivener at the time the document was signed. The following language appears above their signatures:
We, Beverly Johnson and Bessie Dunk, the witnesses, sign our names to this instrument and being duly sworn, do hereby declare to the undersigned authority, that the Testatrix signs it willingly, and that each of us, in the presence and hearing of the Testatrix, and of each other, hereby signs this Will as witness to the Testatrix's signing and that, to the best of our knowledge, the Testatrix is eighteen ...