Author Archives: Brett Herbert

Brett Herbert

About: Brett Herbert

Brett Herbert is an associate attorney in the firm’s Williamsburg office. He is a member of the firm’s Estate and Trust Litigation practice area team. He devotes his practice primarily to disputes involving wills, trusts, guardianships, conservatorships, powers of attorney, and elder law matters.

Undue Influence in Virginia: Does the Undue Influencer Have to Be a Beneficiary?

Without question, one of the most common estate disputes we see centers around allegations that one person unduly influenced another person to write (or re-write) a will or trust.  The typical situation involves an elderly person, no longer capable of living independently, who becomes increasingly reliant on another person for care and assistance. Under Virginia law, undue influence occurs when a testator’s free will is destroyed due to the influencer’s close relationship with the testator.  This theory is one of the most common methods used to attack a will or trust.  There are different ways to prove undue influence.  Undue …

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The Role of the Commissioner of Accounts in Virginia Estate and Trust Administration

People typically picture the probate process going something like this: a person dies, you find their will, you take the will to the courthouse, the executor pays the debts, and then the executor distributes the assets.   Of course, the process is much more complicated and time-consuming than that.  Moreover, there are also multiple people involved in the process of administering an estate or testamentary trust.  One of these critical people is the Commissioner of Accounts. If you are serving, or have served, as the executor or administrator of an estate in Virginia, you will no doubt have been in contact …

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I Do…I Do…Wait, Did We?: The Virginia Supreme Court Weighs in on the Timing of Marriage Licenses and Ceremonies

Imagine you’ve thought you were married for a decade and all of a sudden your spouse denies that you were ever married at all.  The Virginia Supreme Court (the “Court”) recently decided just such a case in Levick v. MacDougall.  The central issue in that case was whether a married couple must first obtain a marriage license before “solemnizing” their marriage. The facts were straightforward: Richard and Deborah were “married” on December 21, 2002 at a celebration at Richard’s house with friends and family.  The officiant, on the day of the “wedding”, discovered that Richard and Deborah had not obtained …

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Serial Suers and Vexatious Litigants: Can Courts Prevent Someone From Filing a Lawsuit?

The vexatious litigant is a problem that civil litigation attorneys very likely encounter at least once during their careers.  It is a well-accepted precept that courts exist, in part, for citizens to seek redress for their claimed civil wrongs.  But can a person abuse the privilege?  The Supreme Court of Virginia held that a person can indeed abuse that privilege, in its June 8, 2017 opinion in Dora L. Adkins v. CP/IPERS Arlington Hotel LLC, Record No. 160685. While not a typical case involving an appeal on the merits, the Adkins decision was written upon a petition for a rehearing …

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Be Careful With That Power of Attorney!: Arbitration Clauses and Nursing Home Lawsuits

On May 15, 2017, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down its opinion in Kindred Nursing Centers, L.P. v. Clark.  This case addressed the issue of whether an agent acting pursuant to a power of attorney could bind an estate to an arbitration agreement. The facts of the case were simple.  Beverly and Janis, family members of Joe and Olive respectively, each held their family member’s respective power of attorney.  Joe and Olive moved into a nursing home operated by Kindred Nursing Centers, L.P. (“Kindred”).  Beverly and Janis used their family members’ powers of attorney to sign an …

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UPDATE: Can an Intended (and Disappointed) Beneficiary Still Sue a Will’s Drafter?: The General Assembly of Virginia Enacts a Statutory Fix to the Thorsen Decision

Back in the summer I wrote a post discussing the impacts of the Thorsen decision by the Supreme Court of Virginia.  In Thorsen, a testator wanted to leave her estate to a charity if her daughter did not survive her.  The lawyer erred in drafting the will.  When the testator died several years later (with her daughter having predeceased her), the testator’s property went to other people, contrary to her intentions.  The charity, the intended beneficiary, sued the lawyer, asserting breach of contract for legal services. Thorsen was notable in that it held that Virginia common law permits intended third …

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Left At The Altar?: Who Owns The Engagement Ring When Love Goes Wrong?

You’ve found the right partner; you’ve found the right ring; and your fiancee accepted.  Now imagine your fiancee unexpectedly breaks off the engagement.  You are devastated.  Your friends tell you there are plenty of fish in the sea.  You’ve returned her favorite CDs and she’s returned your college sweatshirt. But who keeps the engagement ring? The Virginia Supreme Court recently decided this very question in the case of McGrath v. Dockendorf, No. 160262, 2016 WL 7243097 (Va. 2016).  In McGrath, Ethan proposed to his fiancee Julia with an impressive two-carat, $26,000.00 engagement ring. Julia accepted and took the ring.  About …

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A Post-Mortem, Spousal Surprise: Can My Husband Write Me Out of His Will?

Imagine this potentially devastating situation.  Your spouse unexpectedly dies.  You find his will and discover, shockingly, that he left everything to his adult son (or his mistress)!  Is there anything you can do? This situation commonly arises when a husband and wife are separated but not yet divorced. Under Virginia law, a spouse possesses certain rights to what is known as the elective share.  Think of the elective share as a floor for a spouse’s inheritance.  It can be invoked even if the deceased spouse writes the surviving spouse out of his or her will. Under current law, a surviving …

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Unfulfilled Expectations: May an Intended (and Disappointed) Beneficiary Sue a Will’s Drafter?

Imagine the following scenario.  Your elderly mother, your only surviving parent, wants to have a discussion with you about her estate plan.  She shows you her will and explains her intentions.  You look at the will and it seems to make sense.  She tells you she is leaving her estate to you upon her death.  She even provides you with a copy of her will and tells you where the original is.  You feel peace of mind knowing that your mother’s estate is (or should) be in order. A short time later, your mother dies.  You have no idea what …

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Guardianships for Disabled Young Adults

Consider a common situation: Mom and Dad care for their severely disabled child, who is quickly approaching 18 years of age. Let’s call this hypothetical soon-to-be adult Jane. Jane has suffered from severe autism her whole life. She has been in special education throughout her entire school career and requires specialized and frequent medical care.  Jane will never be able to live on her own or manage her finances. Jane’s parents will care for her indefinitely. Jane’s parents wonder if they need legal assistance to plan for Jane’s transition to adulthood. Without proper planning, Jane’s parents will face great difficulty once …

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