Court Supervision of a Will:
Court Decision Makes It Harder to Contest Wills
Earlier this year, a another Court of Appeals decision — profiled recently in a Wall Street Journal article — made it more difficult to contest “rogue” wills, which are wills that seemingly come out of the blue and often lead to family discord and court battles.
In the case of Estate of Stoker, the court upheld the validity of an informal will that decedent Steven Wayne Stoker dictated to a friend after burning his original will. The informal will was not signed by witnesses; nevertheless, the court found that Stoker intended it to be his will. The informal will left Stoker’s estate to his two children; the original will had favored an old girlfriend.
As noted in the WSJ article, the Stoker case is the first appellate decision to test the 2008 harmless error rule passed in 2008 to protect against court challenges that are based on small procedural mistakes in form.
However, as is often the case, a lot of expense and delay (Stoker died in 2005) could have been avoided if Stoker had executed simple estate planning documents that revoked the original will.