In Re Estate Of Santolino

895 A.2d 506 (2005)


The decedent and W first met in January 2000, when W moved into the decedent's home as a tenant. On or about March 11, 2004, the decedent was admitted to Trinitas Hospital. During his hospitalization, he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He was released from the hospital on April 1, 2004, at which time he returned to his Elizabeth residence. W and the decedent were married on April 27, 2004, in the Elizabeth Municipal Court. The decedent was eighty-one and one-half years old, and W was forty-six years old. He was readmitted to Trinitas Hospital on May 11, 2004, where he expired on May 20, 2004. No will has ever been found. Decedent's heir is his sister, Mercedes Tabor (S). S filed a caveat against letters granting administration. S claims that the marriage to the petitioner is a nullity pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:34-1. S alleges that the decedent at the time of the marriage was impotent; the decedent lacked capacity to marry due to want of understanding because of mental condition; there was fraud as to the essentials of marriage; and there exist reasons allowable under general equity jurisdiction to nullify the marriage. W filed a motion to dismiss under R. 4:6-2(e) claiming that S lacks standing to question the validity of the marriage, and that the claim as to the validity of the marriage does not state a cause of action since the death of the decedent terminated the marriage, and the validity of the marriage, therefore, can no longer be questioned. The court found that the 1931 statute on annulments altered the common law and it made a marriage, even one where one of the parties is incapable mentally of consenting, voidable, not void. The court held that it would not look into allegations of a voidable marriage after the death of one of the parties to the marriage. This appeal resulted. S attacks the marriage on four different grounds: (1) the deceased was impotent, N.J.S.A. 2A:34-1(c); (2) he was unable to consent to the marriage, N.J.S.A. 2A:34-1(d); (3) the marriage was based on fraud as to the essentials of the marriage, N.J.S.A. 2A:34-1 (d); and (4) there exist equitable reasons to declare the marriage void, N.J.S.A. 2A:34-1(f).