Where Intent is at Issue, Summary Judgment is Normally Inappropriate

In re Estate of DeFrank, 433 N.J. Super. 258 (App. Div. 2013).  This case involved the question of whether the funds in certain joint bank accounts, which accounts were in the names of decedent and defendant, passed to defendant or not.  The parties had filed cross-motions for summary judgment in the Chancery Division.  That court ruled, as a matter of law, that the funds were non-probate assets governed by the Multiple-Party Deposit Account Act, N.J.S.A. 17:16I-1 to -17 (“MDPA”), and that they therefore passed to defendant outside of probate by survivorship.  On appeal, Judge Parrillo, writing for the panel, applied the de novo standard of review applicable to grants of summary judgment.  He then reversed the Chancery Division, finding that the issue, under the MPDA and otherwise, was one involving decedent’s intent, and that intent issues are normally not appropriate for summary judgment.

The principle that issues of intent are normally not susceptible to summary judgment is not new.  Judge Parrillo cited a number of cases that espouse that and related concepts.  As he wrote, quoting a prior Appellate Division opinion, such “cases are legion.”  Nonetheless, a periodic reminder about the principle that issues of intent should normally not be the subject of summary judgment is sometimes necessary, and this opinion serves that purpose nicely.