On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Ocean County, Docket No. L-1995-10.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued February 7, 2012 -
Before Judges Carchman and Baxter.
In this estate matter, defendants Joan A. Langone and John A. Langone appeal from two Law Division orders. The order of January 25, 2011 entered judgment in favor of plaintiffs, Richard C. Pfeifer, Katherine Pfeifer, Deborah McCandless, Lisa Flynn, Frances Pero and John Obermuller, and against both defendants jointly and severally, in the amount of $100,810.51. That order also entered judgment against Joan Langone individually in the amount of $116,088.49, and assessed punitive damages against her in the amount of $54,224.75. Finally, the January 25, 2011 order required defendant Joan Langone to pay the reasonable attorney's fees and costs incurred by plaintiffs, the amount of which would be determined in a separate order after the court had an opportunity to consider the affidavit of services submitted by plaintiffs' counsel.
The second order, dated March 18, 2011, was issued after the affidavit of services was submitted. This order entered judgment in favor of plaintiffs and against defendant Joan Langone in the amount of $34,495.17 representing the attorney's fees and costs plaintiffs incurred in proceeding against defendant Joan Langone.
Defendants' appeal from the January 25, 2011 order is docketed as A-3168-10, and their appeal from the March 18, 2011 order bears docket number A-4095-10.*fn1
We agree with defendants' contention that Joan's mother, and John's grandmother, Verna Obermuller, was a necessary party whose life estate should have been the subject of valuation before judgment was entered against defendants by order of January 25, 2011. Verna died on January 17, 2011, eight days before the January 25, 2011 order was issued. We reverse the order of January 25, 2011 and remand for a hearing to determine the monetary value of Verna's life estate, and for a determination of her beneficiaries. On remand, the court shall identify Verna's beneficiaries and evaluate whether the January 25, 2011 judgment should be modified accordingly, and, if so, to what extent.*fn2 As for the award of punitive damages in the January 25, 2011 order, and the award of counsel fees in the order of March 18, 2011, we affirm the monetary amounts of those orders, but remand for a determination of whether any person or persons, in addition to plaintiffs, should share in the punitive damages award.
On October 6, 1999, Verna Obermuller, and her husband John Obermuller,
conveyed their real property located in Brooklyn to their daughter
defendant Joan Langone, subject to the life estates of both parents.
On the same date, John and Verna executed a Trust Agreement between
themselves as grantors, and Joan as grantee, in which Joan
acknowledged that the Brooklyn property was transferred to her subject
to the life estates of her parents, and also subject to a power of
appointment held by them. In the Trust Agreement, John and Verna
reserved the right to change or alter the remainderman in their Will,
but agreed not to designate as remaindermen anyone other than their
four children. The Trust Agreement identified their four children as
Richard C. Pfeifer, Walter K. Pfeifer, John Obermuller, Jr.*fn3
Specifically, the Trust Agreement states:
The Grantors reserve unto the Grantors, a Power of Appointment to change or alter the remaindermen of said premises by Will duly executed or by an instrument in writing, duly acknowledged and containing a specific reference to this Agreement, but the Grantors shall not be entitled to appoint themselves or his or her creditors or any person other than a descendant of JOHN OBERMULLER and/or VERNA OBERMULLER, as remaindermen.
In the Trust Agreement, Joan specifically acknowledged that she held the property in trust for herself and her three siblings. Notably, the Trust Agreement prohibited Joan from mortgaging or encumbering the property in any way. The Trust Agreement states:
The Grantee further agrees that she shall not mortgage or encumber the property in any way.
Despite Joan's agreement to not mortgage or encumber the property, in March 2002, she obtained a $100,000 mortgage on the property from GreenPoint Mortgage Funding, Inc. Approximately eight months later, on November 4, 2002, she conveyed the property to Francesco DiLeo and Assuntino DiLeo for $230,000. From the $230,000 proceeds, Joan satisfied the $100,000 mortgage, and ...