Category Archives: General

A Life Estate or Something Else?: The Virginia Supreme Court Adds Some Clarity on the Creation and Scope of Life Estates in Virginia

By recent opinion in the matter of Sandra Flora Snead Larsen v. Pamela Larsen Stack, et al., the Virginia Supreme Court upheld a Trial Court’s decision relating to ambiguous provisions in a will relating to purported life estates. The opinion provides an instructive analysis and look at the legal principles relating to a somewhat common estate dispute scenario. The facts of the case were that the Testator’s (will maker) will (“Will”) divided his estate between his wife (“Wife”), two children (“Children”), and grandchildren. At issue was a certain provision of his Will that left certain real property (the “Cell Tower …

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Posted in Commonwealth of Virginia, Court Opinions, Disinheriting Family Members, Elder Law Disputes, Family disputes, General, Legal Terminology, Life Estate, New Laws, Will Disputes \ Comments Off on A Life Estate or Something Else?: The Virginia Supreme Court Adds Some Clarity on the Creation and Scope of Life Estates in Virginia

Virginia Supreme Court Upholds Judgment Against Power of Attorney Agent for Breach of Fiduciary Duty

By recent unpublished order in the matter of Harold v. Devening, Administrator of the Estate of Donald Wayne Ayers, the Virginia Supreme Court upheld a monetary judgment entered against a power of attorney agent for breach of fiduciary duty. The order provides an instructive analysis and look at the legal framework for a relatively common estate dispute scenario. The facts of the case were that the principal under the power of attorney (the person signing the power of attorney) (“Principal”) moved in with a family friend, Harold (“Agent”), about nine months before his passing. Principal passed away in 2013 with …

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Posted in Beneficiary Designation, Commonwealth of Virginia, Disinheriting Family Members, Elder Law Disputes, Family disputes, Fiduciary Duties, General, Legal Terminology, New Laws, Power of Attorney Disputes, Will Disputes \ Comments Off on Virginia Supreme Court Upholds Judgment Against Power of Attorney Agent for Breach of Fiduciary Duty

Who Would Inherit the Emperor’s Estate?

As loyal readers of this blog know, our team has previously posted analyses of the fictional estates of the Star Wars universe (Han Solo, Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker). We now turn our attention to who would inherit Emperor Palpatine’s estate in light of the most recent Star Wars film The Rise of Skywalker. Spoiler Alert: (this post contains spoilers about the recent Star Wars film The Rise of Skywalker). Everyone thought that Emperor Palpatine (“Emperor”) died at the end of The Return of the Jedi when Darth Vader heroically sacrificed himself, on behalf of his imperiled son Luke, and threw …

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Posted in Disinheriting Family Members, Elder Law Disputes, Elective share, General, intestacy, Legal Terminology, Will Disputes \ Comments Off on Who Would Inherit the Emperor’s Estate?

Public Policy Limits on Wills – May a Will Condition a Bequest on a Beneficiary’s Obtaining a Divorce?

In the recent Fairfax Circuit Court decision of In re Connolly (Case No. CL-2018-0002347), the trial court had to decide the issue of whether a testator (will maker) may condition a bequest on a beneficiary’s obtaining a divorce from his current spouse. While a testator may write whatever she desires in her will or trust, courts, in some circumstances, have the authority to invalidate provisions as void against public policy. A court will generally not, on its own initiative, invalidate such provisions. Rather, an interested person may have standing to bring a suit to seek a declaratory judgment asking the …

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Posted in Court Opinions, Disinheriting Family Members, Elder Law Disputes, Elective share, General, intestacy, Legal Terminology, Preventing Disputes, Will Disputes \ Comments Off on Public Policy Limits on Wills – May a Will Condition a Bequest on a Beneficiary’s Obtaining a Divorce?

Prior Correspondence: A Key Tool in Preparing Your Estate Dispute Case for Trial

Technology, particularly relating to communication, is ubiquitous and ever-expanding in scope and ability. From text messaging to social media, there are seemingly more ways to communicate now than ever before. Is that correspondence admissible at trial? Trials are governed by the rules of evidence. These rules are detailed, nuanced, and not always intuitive. As practitioners, we typically become involved in estate disputes weeks, months, or even years after the initial dispute breaks out. During this time, a great deal of potentially relevant evidence has likely been generated through the exchange of emails, texts, letters, and the like.

Posted in Disinheriting Family Members, Elder Law Disputes, Elective share, General, intestacy, Legal Terminology, Preventing Disputes, Will Disputes \ Comments Off on Prior Correspondence: A Key Tool in Preparing Your Estate Dispute Case for Trial

What Happens When a Will’s Language is Inconsistent with the Titling of an Account Held with Survivorship?

A common question on most financial/investment account applications is whether an account-holder desires to own the account with one or more persons, with or without survivorship. Owning an account with “survivorship” means that upon the passing of one account-holder, the entirety of the funds will pass to the surviving account-holder (regardless of what the departed account-holder’s will or trust provides). A common question that we encounter is what happens when a will’s language is inconsistent with the titling of an account held with survivorship? The short answer is that the survivorship titling of the account will typically control over a …

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Posted in Disinheriting Family Members, Elder Law Disputes, Elective share, General, intestacy, Legal Terminology, Preventing Disputes, Will Disputes \ Comments Off on What Happens When a Will’s Language is Inconsistent with the Titling of an Account Held with Survivorship?

Matters of Style: Spouse’s Elective Share Suit Dismissed for Naming the Wrong Party

The identity of parties matters a great deal in litigation.  The failure to sue the right person can have serious consequences.  Even if a litigant has a solid case, naming the wrong party can prematurely end a case without the suit ever being heard on the merits.  In some cases, courts permit amendments of lawsuits.  In light of that, some may assume that a mistake may be overlooked or fixed by a court.  Not so.  For these reasons, it is critical to enlist the help of an experienced litigator when faced with an estate dispute.

Posted in Court Opinions, Disinheriting Family Members, Elder Law Disputes, Elective share, General, Legal Terminology, New Laws, Will Disputes \ Comments Off on Matters of Style: Spouse’s Elective Share Suit Dismissed for Naming the Wrong Party

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

Legislative Update: Virginia’s General Assembly Acts to Reduce Inconsistencies between Revocable Living Trusts and Wills

As more people elect to use revocable living trusts for estate planning purposes instead of traditional wills, the disposition of property will increasingly depend on the interpretation and determination of revocable living trust provisions.  Virginia’s General Assembly (“General Assembly”), Virginia’s state legislature, recently acted, with House Bill 746, to address some of the principles governing revocable living trusts.  House Bill 746, which has been signed into law, amends several statutory sections of the Virginia Code relating to trust and estate law (collectively, the “Amendments”).  The Amendments serve to reduce some inconsistencies in the substance and interpretation of revocable living trusts …

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Posted in Elder Law Disputes, General, Legal Terminology, New Laws, Trust Disputes, Will Disputes \ Comments Off on Legislative Update: Virginia’s General Assembly Acts to Reduce Inconsistencies between Revocable Living Trusts and Wills

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