Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Defense Set Back in Estate Battle

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Defense Set Back in Estate Battle

Article excerpt

A judge in Hackensack has ruled that the son of the late Hudson News patriarch Robert Cohen must prove that he did not unduly influence his father into altering his wills and making large business transfers.

The ruling is a victory for Robert Cohen's granddaughter, Samantha Perelman, in the ongoing trial over a multimillion-dollar inheritance. Perelman alleges that her uncle, James Cohen, manipulated his ailing father to change his wills and make business transfers that benefited him to the tune of $600 million, while leaving Perelman with little inheritance.

James Cohen's attorneys argue that Robert Cohen, who was debilitated by a neurological disease until he died last year at the age of 86, was nevertheless capable of communicating and was never unduly influenced. They also argue that it was always his intention to transfer the business to his only living son, who had been working at Hudson News for decades.

A will-contest trial based on a claim of undue influence often unfolds as follows: The plaintiff presents evidence and witnesses in an effort to prove that there was a confidential relationship between the author of the will and a beneficiary who is accused of exerting undue influence. The plaintiff must also show that there were suspicious circumstances surrounding the preparation or alteration of the will, according to state law.

Under state law, the plaintiff bears the burden of proving undue influence but can ask a judge to shift that burden. If a judge finds that the plaintiff has been able to show the existence of a confidential relationship and suspicious circumstances, then the judge can shift the burden to the defendant.

That means the defendant will have to prove there was no undue influence, as opposed to the plaintiff having to prove that there was undue influence, according to state law.

Samantha Perelman's attorneys made the request for a burden shift earlier this month, after they presented several witnesses following the start of the trial in September. …

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