Tag Archives: Estate litigation

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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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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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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Reptile Theory and Estate Litigation

How can estate litigators use the reptile theory to their advantage? Given the unique nature of estate disputes, do estate litigators enjoy a subject-matter advantage when it comes to the reptile theory? First, a brief summary of what the reptile theory is: in 2009, authors David Ball and Don Keenan published a book titled, Reptile: The 2009 Manual of the Plaintiff’s Revolution, which has since become rather influential and much-debated. One attorney aptly summarized the reptile theory as follows: The Reptile theory asserts that you can prevail at trial by speaking to, and scaring, the primitive part of jurors’ brains, the …

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Lost Wills: What To Do When The Original Can’t Be Found

Virginia law requires that an original will be probated (as opposed to a copy). Occasionally, this poses a problem as no one can locate the original will. In those instances, Virginia law provides that a proponent of a non-original will may petition the circuit court to order that a copy of the will be admitted to probate. As part of that petition, the petitioner will need to name as “necessary parties” to the petition any people who stand to receive a bequest under the will, as well as any people who would stand to inherit a portion of the decedent’s …

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Using “Nonmarital Child” Instead of “Illegitimate Child”

Estate litigation cases often feature children born outside of wedlock. In those instances, estate litigators face a choice as to what terminology they should use to characterize such children. Selecting the appropriate phrase is not just important for purposes of pleadings and motions (to be read by a judge), but also for purposes of trying a case in front of a jury. Throughout American history, society has used three main terms to refer to such persons: “bastard children”, “illegitimate children”, and “nonmarital children”. The phrase “illegitimate child” is quickly (and thankfully) falling out of acceptance. There are many reasons why …

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New Law Enables Possible Recovery Of Attorney’s Fees On Grounds Of Undue Influence

Last year, the Virginia General Assembly adopted a new law that went into effect on July 1, 2014.  Virginia Code Section 8.01-221.2. provides as follows: “In any civil action to rescind a deed, contract, or other instrument, the court may award to the plaintiff reasonable attorney fees and costs associated with bringing such action where the court finds, by clear and convincing evidence, that the deed, contract, or other instrument was obtained by fraud or undue influence on the part of the defendant.” In other words, the court has the option (note the use of the word “may”, as opposed …

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