Probate Court's Decision Prevents Litigation About Wrongful Conduct Concerning a Will but not a Prenuptial Agreement

Probate Court's Decision Prevents Litigation About Wrongful Conduct Concerning a Will but not a Prenuptial AgreementThe Supreme Court of Connecticut rules that the doctrine of collateral estoppel prevents a woman from litigating a will that the probate court has already deemed valid. However, she can challenge conduct relating to an amendment of a prenuptial agreement because the probate court did not directly address the issue. In Solon v. Slater (Conn. 20597, January 3, 2023).

In May 2013, before marrying Mr. Michael Solon, Mrs. Linda Yoffe Solon signed a prenuptial agreement. After they wed, her husband received a terminal diagnosis, and they negotiated an amendment to the prenuptial agreement to be more favorable to her. He gave her a handwritten note stating the terms of the amendment, but they never finalized it.

Following his diagnosis, Mr. Solon signed a will that his attorney, Mr. Slater, prepared. Then, in February 2014, another lawyer, who represented Mr. Solon in the antenuptial agreement negotiations, prepared a new will for him.

In March 2014, Mr. Solon went to his ex-wife’s home. He died on April 19, 2014.

When Mr. Slater submitted the 2014 will to probate, Mrs. Yoffe Solon challenged it, alleging that Mr. Slater and his son from a previous marriage, Joshua Solon, unduly influenced her late husband and that he lacked the capacity to execute the will. The probate court admitted the 2014 will over Mrs. Yoffe Solon’s objections, finding insufficient evidence of undue influence.

While her will challenge was pending, she also brought an action against Mr. Slater and Mr. Joshua Solon, asserting that they prevented her late husband from amending the antenuptial agreement and drafting the will to benefit her, tortiously interfering with her contractual relations and inheritance. The trial court found that collateral estoppel barred her claims because the probate court determined that no undue influence occurred. The appellate court also found her claims were collaterally estopped.

Here, the Connecticut Supreme Court considers whether the doctrines of collateral estoppel and res judicata preclude Mrs. Yoffe Solon’s claims as to the will and antenuptial agreement amendment.

Collateral estoppel bars a claim when the issues are identical to an already resolved case. The probate court addressed whether undue influence affected the will’s validity and whether the testator could execute the will. The probate court’s decision that no undue influence took place with respect to the will prevents Mrs. Yoffe Solon from pursuing the tortious interference of inheritance claim hinging on undue influence. Yet, since the probate court did not address whether Mr. Slater and Mr. Joshua Solon improperly affected the late Mr. Solon’s prenuptial agreement amendment negotiations, Mrs. Yoffe Solon can assert a claim that they tortiously interfered with her contractual relations.

In pertinent part, res judicata precludes a claim when the litigant had the chance to litigate it and chose not to do so. During the probate case, Mrs. Yoffe Solon lacked the adequate opportunity to litigate her tortious interference with contractual relations claim. Because res judicata does apply, her interference with the amendment of the antenuptial agreement claim can go forward.

The probate court’s decision collaterally estops Mrs. Yoffe Solon from challenging Mr. Slater and Mr. Joshua Solon’s conduct related to the will. Neither collateral estoppel nor res judicata thwarts her prenuptial agreement claim.

Read the entire opinion here.