- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 26, 2011

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - A New Jersey court has rejected an attempt by the son of late author Belva Plain to invalidate her will in a bitter dispute that dates back two decades.

John Plain had claimed his mother, the best-selling author of more than 20 novels, and sisters had schemed to cut him out of her will. Attorneys for Belva Plain’s estate argued that her son had signed an agreement in the 1990s vowing not to contest her will.

Belva Plain died in her sleep at her home in northern New Jersey last fall at age 95. At the time of her death, more than 28 million copies of her books were in print.

In his opinion Friday dismissing John Plain’s claim, state Superior Court Judge Walter Koprowski Jr. wrote that the court record reflects “a family history of considerable animosity, and extensive litigation.”

According to court records, John Plain claimed in a lawsuit filed this year that his mother suffered from Alzheimer’s disease in her final years and was unable to make rational decisions about her estate, and that there was a “secret” relationship between her and her daughters to cut him out of the will.

Attorneys for Belva Plain’s estate countered that John Plain signed documents in 1993 that prevented him from challenging her will and that he was not named as a beneficiary on any of 10 wills his mother wrote starting in 1990.

They also noted that under the same 1993 agreement, John Plain received more than $500,000 from his mother since then. Belva Plain sought and was granted multiple restraining orders against her son under the New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, according to the court record.

Belva Plain began writing her novels after raising her children and becoming a grandmother. Her first, “Evergreen,” was published in 1978 and spent more than 40 weeks on The New York Times best-seller list, and it was developed into a popular TV miniseries. Her last, “Heartwood,” was published in February.

John Plain’s lawyer, Thomas Wolfe, said he was reviewing Friday’s decision and did not comment on the ruling. Attorneys for Belva Plain’s two daughters didn’t immediately return messages seeking comment Tuesday.