Category Archives: Court Opinions

A Bewildering Bequest: The Supreme Court of Virginia Weighs in on the Meaning of a Will’s Residuary Clause

Most people are familiar with the basic contents of a will.  Wills typically name an executor, order the payment of debts and expenses, and provide for the distribution of the testator’s (will-maker) property.  Many wills provide for specific property to pass to specific people.  These are known as specific bequests or devises.  In addition to such bequests or devises, most wills contain a residuary clause – sort of a catch-all disposition for all of the rest and remainder of the estate.  They typically read something like this: “I leave all of the rest, residue, and remainder of my property, of …

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Posted in Court Opinions, Disinheriting Family Members, Elder Law Disputes, Elective share, General, intestacy, Legal Terminology, New Laws, Preventing Disputes, Will Disputes \ Comments Off on A Bewildering Bequest: The Supreme Court of Virginia Weighs in on the Meaning of a Will’s Residuary Clause

Virginia Supreme Court Issues New Opinion on the Standard to Admit a Will to Probate

Last month, the Virginia Supreme Court handed down a ruling in an estate dispute that clarified the standard for admitting a will to probate, and further discussed the standard for admitting testimony concerning the decedent’s will when the genuineness of the will is called into question. The case – Canody v. Hamblin, 2018 WL 3471372 – provides a helpful overview of Virginia law on those two issues, and the following is a summary of the case facts and the holdings. Facts The decedent’s daughter petitioned the circuit court to have a document admitted to probate as her father’s will. The will …

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Raise It or Waive It?: The Virginia Supreme Court Weighs in on When Parties in Estate Litigation Must Raise (or Waive) Testamentary Capacity/Undue Influence Claims

Imagine your aging, widowed mother (“Mother”) has dementia and moves into assisted living.  You live about four hours away from Mother.  Your sibling (“Sibling”) lives about five (5) minutes away from Mother.  Sibling becomes increasingly involved in Mother’s affairs.  One day Sibling provides you with a copy of Mother’s recently changed will.  The new will leaves everything to Sibling.  Given Mother’s dementia, you are highly concerned because you don’t think Mother had the capacity to make the new will.  You ask Sibling about the new will.  Sibling says “It’s what Mother wants.” Later, Sibling files a lawsuit seeking to be …

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Posted in Court Opinions, Disinheriting Family Members, Elder Law Disputes, General, Guardianship/Conservatorship Proceedings, Legal Terminology, New Laws, Power of Attorney Disputes, Undue Influence, Will Disputes \ Comments Off on Raise It or Waive It?: The Virginia Supreme Court Weighs in on When Parties in Estate Litigation Must Raise (or Waive) Testamentary Capacity/Undue Influence Claims

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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Posted in Court Opinions, Disinheriting Family Members, Elder Law Disputes, Fiduciary Accounting Requirements, General, Legal Terminology, New Laws, Preventing Disputes, Trust Disputes \ Comments Off on Undue Influence in Virginia: Does the Undue Influencer Have to Be a Beneficiary?

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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Posted in Court Opinions, Elder Law Disputes, Fiduciary Accounting Requirements, Fiduciary Duties, General, Guardianship/Conservatorship Proceedings, Legal Terminology, Trust Disputes, Will Disputes \ Comments Off on The Role of the Commissioner of Accounts in Virginia Estate and Trust Administration

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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Virginia Supreme Court Issues New Estate Dispute Opinion

Back in June of this year, the Virginia Supreme Court handed down a ruling in an estate dispute case that, while it didn’t particularly break new legal ground, provides a helpful overview of the current state of Virginia law regarding Virginia’s Slayer Statute as well as claims contesting a deed of gift on the basis of undue influence. In Gelber v. Glock, 293 Va. 497 (2017), the Virginia Supreme Court reviewed rulings of the trial court in a case involving allegations by several of the decedent’s children that, among other things, their sister wrongfully induced their mother to execute a …

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Legal Malpractice Claims Against Estate Planning Attorneys in Virginia: Post-Thorsen Legislation

The legal landscape in Virginia regarding claims for legal malpractice against estate planning attorneys changed significantly this past year when the Virginia General Assembly adopted legislation to address the issues raised in the Virginia Supreme Court’s Thorsen decision. This blog post discusses some implications of, and observations about, the new legislation, which was adopted as Virginia Code Section 64.2-520.1. My colleague Brett Herbert did a great job summarizing the terms of the new statute itself, in his earlier blog post on this issue (which can be found here). Implication #1 First, Section 64.2-520.1(B) provides that only a personal representative can bring …

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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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Posted in Court Opinions, Elder Law Disputes, General, Legal Terminology, Long Term Care Facilities, New Laws, Power of Attorney Disputes \ Comments Off on Be Careful With That Power of Attorney!: Arbitration Clauses and Nursing Home Lawsuits