Category Archives: Will Disputes

Oral Contracts to Make Wills

The vast majority of people have no idea that Virginia law recognizes oral contracts to make a will. As a result, people often miss out on asserting a claim to an inheritance because they didn’t know that they had one to begin with. This blog post provides an overview of Virginia law on this issue. I’ll follow-up this blog post with another one in the coming weeks about practical tips for how people can optimize their chances of winning on a claim for an oral contract to make a will. Virginia has long enforced contracts to make a will, whereby …

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10 Arguments Against Pre-Death (Antemortem) Probate and Will Contests

There are a handful of states that allow a person to probate a will (and challengers to contest the validity of a will) before the testator (the person enacting the will) dies. In recent years, there has been a trend to expand the practice to more states. I had an interesting discussion about this issue at the recent Heckerling conference, and I wrote this blog post to discuss why I think the practice is a bad idea. First, some background: pre-death probate (also known as antemortem probate) is only permitted in a handful of states (including Ohio, Arkansas, North Dakota, and …

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Changes To Elective Share Law in Virginia Will Lead To More Litigation

The Virginia General Assembly overhauled Virginia’s elective share statute this past year, and one of the big results will likely be an increase in litigation. My colleague Brett Herbert recently wrote a blog post summarizing some of the more significant changes in the elective share framework that go into effect on January 1, 2017 (that post can be accessed here). This post focuses on a specific change that adds a time requirement in which a surviving spouse asserting a claim for the elective share must file a lawsuit to determine the elective share. Under the prior Virginia law, when a surviving …

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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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Do It Yourself Wills: Will They Lead to More Litigation?

Here’s my prediction: do it yourself wills, also referred to as “homemade wills” or “online wills” or “internet wills” (I’ll refer to them in this blog post as “DIY Wills”) will result in a significant (though not massive) increase in estate litigation, but society won’t see that spike for another decade or two. What are DIY Wills? The term encompasses wills that can be created by filling in blanks on a preexisting template, usually found online. A variety of companies offer such a service for a price that is somewhat significantly reduced compared to what an estate planning attorney would …

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Who Would Inherit Darth Vader’s Estate?

Who would be the beneficiary of the estate of Darth Vader? The answer is more than just an exercise in Star Wars fiction; in fact, the answer can teach us important lessons about estate disputes in our real world. In case you did not read my earlier blog post, in which I asked the same question about Han Solo’s estate, you can find that post here. Note: for those who are not familiar with Star Wars, yet who want to follow along with the discussion below, it’s important to known that Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader are the same person (Anakin …

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Risks to Estate Planning Attorneys in Light of the Thorsen Case

There are several things that all estate planning attorneys (and those who advise them) need to be aware of in light of the Virginia Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Thorsen v. Richmond Society For The Prevention Of Cruelty to Animals, No. 150528, 2016 WL 3131004 (Va. 2016). My colleague Brett Herbert provided a helpful summary of the Court’s ruling in Thorsen in a prior blog post, which can be accessed here. This post shares some tips on how estate planning attorneys can attempt to minimize their legal exposure in light of the Thorsen ruling. Estate planning attorneys would be wise to insert into …

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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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4 Steps To Take If An Estate Dispute Is Brewing

If an estate dispute is brewing (but is not yet in litigation), there are several important steps that people can take to maximize their odds of success if the matter proceeds to litigation. In the vast majority of states, people only have judicial standing to challenge a will or a trust after the person who executed the will or trust (referred to as the “testator” or “settlor,” respectively) has passed away. There are often scenarios where a person believes that the testator/settlor was pressured into making the will/trust; didn’t have adequate testamentary capacity to do so; etc., and the testator/settlor …

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The Fictional Fight Over Han Solo’s Estate

Who would be the beneficiary of the estate of Han Solo?  Star Wars is obviously a fictional universe, and there is no indication in Episode 7 (or any other canon material that I’m aware of) that speaks to whether Han Solo had a will or not. Nevertheless, it’s both fun and educational to analyze the answer, because if the same laws in effect in Virginia were in effect in the Star Wars universe, Han Solo’s death would likely have set off a wave of litigation among numerous characters in a galaxy far, far away. First, let’s consider what assets Han …

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