Margaret Flood died in May 2008 survived by four children. Two of the children were disabled and beneficiaries of supplemental security income and Medicaid benefits. One of the children received special residential services and the other benefited from the Division of Developmental Disabilities.
Prior to her death, Margaret considered special needs estate planning to protect her daughters from obligations to reimburse the benefits received through the various governmental programs. Margaret consulted an attorney in April 2008, but her plans were interrupted by the illness of one of her daughters and her own injury. Margaret died in May 2008 with an estate of $480,000 and without having executed any estate plan.
The estate’s administrator filed an action seeking the court’s authorization to establish and fund trusts for the disabled daughters that he claimed Margaret would have created. The Division of Developmental Disabilities opposed the suit. The trial court applied the doctrine of probable intent to permit the establishment and funding of special needs trusts for the two disabled daughters.
On appeal, the New Jersey Superior Court reversed on the grounds that: (1) the trial judge’s well-intended decision was based on a mistaken understanding of the law; (2) in the absence of testamentary disposition, Margaret’s estate passed by way of intestacy and her children’s interest vested immediately upon her death; (3) the doctrine of probable intent had no application in the absence of a will; (4) the doctrine permits the reformation of a will in light of the testator’s probable intent by searching out the probable meaning intended by the words and phrases of the will and examining extrinsic evidence to ascertain that intent; and (5) the doctrine of probable intent is a rule of construction or interpretation and therefore presupposes an existing testamentary disposition and where there is no will there can be no construction.