Colorado Probate Blog - Wade Ash Woods Hill & Farley, P.C.

Aretha Franklin's Funky Wills

In May, three hand-written wills were found hidden in Aretha Franklin’s Detroit area home. Her family and lawyers previously thought she had died intestate. Two hand-written wills dated 2010 were found in a locked cabinet and third hand-written will dated 2014 was found under a couch in Ms. Franklin’s living room. The wills are difficult to follow. (Click here for example.) All three documents have been offered for probate as valid holographic wills. There is some question whether they are valid under Michigan law.

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Will Contests

The proponents of the Will have the initial burden of due execution, venue, and proof of death. The burden is on the contestant to show lack of testamentary capacity, fraud, undue influence, duress, mistake or revocation. However, undue influence cannot be inferred by motive and opportunity alone. There must be some evidence, either direct or circumstantial, to show that undue influence not only existed but also influenced the making of the Will.

I have always considered the two most important witnesses in a Will contest to be the drafting attorney and treating doctor.

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Who Has the Right to a Decedent's Remains

Probate and estate litigation is fraught with emotion. We often see families divided over a deceased loved one’s property. And while each dispute is different, there are commonalities; one of which is that the disputes are often “not about the money.”

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Electronic Wills–Governor Vetoes Florida’s Electronic Will Statute (Part II)

In 2017, the Florida Legislature approved House Bill 277 promulgating the new Florida Electronic Wills Act (FEWA). The FEWA authorizes the creation of electronic wills and provides that the execution of electronic wills may be witnessed and notarized through the use of remote technology. The Act also specifies that electronic wills for residents, as well as non-residents, may be probated in Florida.

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Electronic Wills-Dispensing With Pen and Paper (Part I)

Will Requirements

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Contention Over Lunar Bibles

The state of Texas and Oklahoma resident Carol Mersch, have been in a six-year, estate-related battle in court over 10 teeny microfilm Bibles that traveled to the moon and back in 1971 with NASA’s Apollo 14 Mission. These tiny Bibles contain all 1,245 pages of the King James Bible and are roughly the size of a postage stamp that can only be read through a microscope. Carol Mersch, a Tulsa business woman and author, and the state of Texas are not seeing eye-to-eye on who these precious keepsakes belong to. In 2009, Mersch became friends with a man named John Stout, a NASA chaplain. She claims Stout gave her the Bibles while she was writing a book about trying to land a Bible on the moon. Mersch has a certificate of authenticity signed by Stout, but attorneys for the state of Texas and the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services contend that due to the declining physical and mental health of Stout and his wife in their later years, they were considered wards of the state and their son, Jonathan Stout, should inherit the Bibles. Mersch is accused of exerting undue influence over Stout and his wife. She has spent approximately $500,000 defending the litigation regarding ownership of the moon Bibles. For now, until the rightful owner is established, these “First Lunar Bibles” remain stored in a Tulsa County courthouse pending a May 3 hearing.

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Those picky details . . .

In this age of instant access to information on the Internet, including do-it-yourself estate planning documents, it is important to remember that the devil is in the details. Examples on point: a recent email exchange among estate planning attorneys from around the country describing potentially painful prose:

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1268 Hits