By Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a Freehold, NJ Probate Estate Litigation Attorney

It’s common that once a lawsuit has been filed and after much cost, time and anxiety, the case settles. It’s also common that parties reach a settlement but one party gets cold feet (aka “buyer’s remorse”) and wants to go back to the negotiating table, thinking that they got cheated or shortchanged out of something that they could have won if they went to trial.  But once a settlement is placed on the record before a judge, and the consent of all parties is entered, voiding a settlement is hard to undo.  One of the reasons why a court explicitly asks questions on the record and before the judge is to ensure that those who are entering into the settlement are doing so without coercion and undue influence.  The case of “The Estate of Kenneth Kanter” looks at this issue further.

The plaintiff was a brother of the decedent.  He and his nephew filed suit contesting the validity of the will.  A settlement was reached concerning the distribution of the property.  The judge asked each party that if anybody had any objection(s) to the settlement to speak up.  The judge noted that all parties understood the terms of the settlement, had no side deals, were not taking medication or suffered from any condition that would prevent them from entering into the agreement, and were satisfied with their attorney’s representation. He confirmed that each had and entered into this agreement freely and voluntarily.  The judge asked the Plaintiff if he agreed, and the Plaintiff stated he agreed with everything.  Weeks later plaintiff then filed a motion to vacate the settlement, claiming duress.  The court rejected the motion, and the judge noted how the person could have objected to the settlement when it was read into the record, but did not do so.

One thing to note in this case is that the judge, parties, and attorneys were in mediation together trying to figure out a way to settle this case.  They came to an agreement in the early evening.  It was placed on the record, and then one of the parties decided he wanted to avoid the settlement.  The judge who had observed the parties at all times knew there was no duress.  The plaintiff agreed that there was no duress on the record.  So the likelihood that this was going to succeed was slim to none.  But it goes to show you that settlements when made voluntarily, are hard to undo.

To discuss your NJ Probate Estate Litigation matter, please contact Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. toll-free at (855) 376-5291 or email him at fniemann@hnlawfirm.com.  Please ask us about our video conferencing consultations if you are unable to come to our office.