Category Archives: General

Must a Will/Codicil be Signed?: Virginia Court Finds an Unsigned Codicil to be Valid

By recent letter opinion in the matter of In re George William Estate of Asmuth, the Fairfax Circuit Court held that an unsigned codicil was indeed valid under Virginia Code Section 64.2-404. The letter opinion, while not binding authority across all of Virginia, provides an instructive analysis and look at the legal framework for resolving a relatively common estate dispute scenario: whether a codicil/will which is unsigned is of any legal validity. My colleague Will Sleeth previously wrote an instructive blog post on this topic. The facts of the case were that a testator (will-maker) (“George”) died in 2021. George …

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More Lawsuits Coming?: Virginia’s General Assembly Increases the Jurisdictional Limits in Virginia’s General District Courts for Certain Personal Injury Claims

Virginia has two levels of trial courts: the circuit courts and the general district courts. Circuit courts are considered “courts of record”, while general district courts are considered “courts not of record.” Both levels of trial court have their own unique jurisdiction to hear certain types of cases. The Recent Legislation In a significant development, the Virginia General Assembly recently passed legislation to increase the jurisdictional limit of Virginia’s general district courts from $25,000.00 to $50,000.00 for personal injury and wrongful death claims. This is a substantial change from prior law in Virginia, which had previously capped the damages maximum …

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The Supreme Court of Virginia Hands Down a New Decision on the Applicability of a No Contest Clause in a Trust

By recent unpublished order in the matter of McMurtrie, v. McMurtrie, the Supreme Court of Virginia reversed a trial court’s ruling that a no contest clause (in terrorem clause) in a trust did not apply to a trust settlor (trust creator). While unpublished, the order nevertheless provides an instructive analysis of the legal framework for an increasingly common estate dispute scenario: whether a no contest clause in a trust or will has been violated by the actions of a beneficiary. Additionally, this unpublished order also applied certain principles from the Supreme Court’s recent Hunter v. Hunter decision. Notably, Hunter v. …

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Posted in Commonwealth of Virginia, Court Opinions, Disinheriting Family Members, Elder Abuse, Elder Law Disputes, Family disputes, Fiduciary Duties, General, Gifts, Legal Terminology, New Laws, No Contest Clause, Preventing Disputes, Trust Disputes \ Comments Off on The Supreme Court of Virginia Hands Down a New Decision on the Applicability of a No Contest Clause in a Trust

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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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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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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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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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.

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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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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.

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