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Burden of Proof Shifts in Robert Cohen Inheritance Case

A woman in New Jersey has been seeking a large inheritance from her grandfather, Hudson News founder Robert Cohen, in an ongoing court battle that has pitted her against her uncle. The uncle, son of the late Cohen, is accused of exerting undue influence over his ailing father in order to secure a lucrative business deal. The uncle allegedly coerced the ill man into changing his will, leaving the granddaughter with little of the inheritance that was originally promised to her. Until now, the defense has been arguing that the debilitating disease Robert Cohen was suffering from did not prevent him from being able to make his own decisions. Cohen had been living with a neurological condition that left him unable to speak clearly. He was 86 years old when he died last year.

In New Jersey, the plaintiff in will contest cases bears the burden of proof. In this case, the granddaughter’s attorneys must prove that Robert Cohen’s will was altered under suspicious circumstances. The judge presiding over this case recently ruled there was indeed suspicion surrounding Cohen’s will. This means that the burden of proof has now shifted to the defense. It is now their responsibility to prove that Cohen’s son did not unduly influence his father into handing over the company in his will – a move that allowed the son to gain around $600 million.

The judge ruled that the granddaughter’s attorneys presented adequate evidence to prove that Cohen and his son had a confidential relationship. The defense, while having long argued that it was always Cohen’s intention to give his business to his son, might become much more aggressive in light of the recent ruling. The defense attorney’s initial reaction was one of confidence, however, stating that the ruling does not change what they already have already been proving – that Cohen was clearly capable of deciding to hand over the company himself despite his condition.

This trial has now been underway for around four months. Disputes between the granddaughter’s family and the Cohens have been ongoing for around five years. It’s unfortunate that the families have been feuding for so long; however, both sides have a right to seek probate litigation if they truly believe that their deceased loved one’s intentions are not being carried out.

Source: The Record, “Setback for defense in Perelman-Cohen estate battle” Kibret Markos, Dec. 24, 2013

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