On March 7, 2023, the New Jersey Appellate Division issued an unpublished opinion in Ward & O'Donnell, LLC v. Nancy Ward, A-2702-21, concerning an action for ejectment from an alleged possessory life estate.
The case arose out of a dispute between Ward & O'Donnell, LLC, the owner of certain real property in Westfield, New Jersey, and Nancy Ward ("Nancy"), the sister of James Ward ("James"), a principal of Ward & O'Donnell, LLC. Nancy had been granted certain rights in the property in 1999 by James and their other sister, Josephine. Under the terms of the document signed by the siblings, Nancy had the right to possess and use the property for "as long as she wishes" without paying rent.
In 2018, Ward & D'Donnell, LLC demanded that Nancy begin paying rent for the unit, alleging that the building's expenses had increased to such a great extent that such payments were necessary. Nancy did not do so, and the owner then brought an action for ejectment against Nancy. The trial court denied the ejectment and found in favor of Nancy, but required her to pay her proportionate share of the property taxes and other expenses from 2018 forward. The Appellate Division affirmed the trial court's decision, finding that even without a deed, will, lease or other written contract, a life estate could (and was) created by the document signed by the parties was, in fact, sufficient to create a life estate. (Ward & O'Donnell, LLC v. Nancy Ward, A-2702-21)
Peter J. Vazquez, Jr.