Promise Made To Companion Enforceable Against Estate

NOVEMBER 18, 2002 VOLUME 10, NUMBER 20

Arthur Roccamonte was married, the father of two children and the owner of a trucking business in New Jersey when he met Mary Sopko. Ms. Sopko was also married, and had one daughter. Mr. Roccamonte, attracted to Ms. Sopko, pursued her and the couple embarked on an affair that lasted until his death forty years later. When he died Ms. Sopko claimed that he had promised to support her for the rest of her life, and that his estate should make good on that promise.

The affair between Mr. Roccamonte and Ms. Sopko began sometime in the mid-1950s, and the couple lived together off and on for another decade. Sometime in the mid-1960s Ms. Sopko moved to California to get away from Mr. Roccamonte because of his refusal to leave his wife and marry her. He called her while she was in California and promised that if she would return he would divorce his wife and provide for Ms. Sopko financially for the rest of her life.

Ms. Sopko agreed, returned to New Jersey, divorced her husband and moved back into an apartment with Mr. Roccamonte. Although the couple lived together as if married, Mr. Roccamonte never divorced and in fact continued to support his wife financially.

When the apartment they lived in converted into a cooperative complex Mr. Roccamonte purchased their unit and placed it in Ms. Sopko’s name. He supported her and her daughter, and sent the daughter through college. He purchased an $18,000 life insurance policy naming Ms. Sopko as beneficiary, and he put her name on a small bank account. But when Mr. Roccamonte died in 1995 he had not made a will or any other arrangement, and the bulk of his estate passed automatically to his wife.

Ms. Sopko filed a claim against his estate, charging that he had made an enforceable promise to support her for her lifetime. She noted that even the monthly maintenance payments on the cooperative apartment were $950, and that she could not live in her own home without support. The trial court, however, ruled that she had not shown an enforceable contract and dismissed her claim.

The New Jersey Supreme Court disagreed and directed that the case be remanded for a calculation of the amount due Ms. Sopko on her claim. Because Mr. Roccamonte had made the promise and Ms. Sopko had acted in reliance on it the contract was enforceable even though not written. Interestingly, the judges ordered that the amount be calculated in family (divorce) court rather than probate court. Estate of Roccamonte, October 23, 2002.

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