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Tennessee Allows Signatures on Affidavit to Will to Satisfy Statutory Witness Signature Requirement for Wills Executed Prior to July 1, 2016

Posted on Jul 4 2016 5:25PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

The 2016 Tennessee legislature passed Public Chapter 843 and it changed Will execution witness requirements for certain Wills executed prior to July 1, 2016.  This statute was passed in order to address a problem that came up due to recent Tennessee Court of Appeals decision.  The Tennessee Court of Appeals decision was In Re: Estate of Bill Morris, 2015 WL 557970 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2015).  I previously blogged on this case here.  In the Morris case, the Tennessee Court of Appeals found that witness signatures on the Affidavit attached to the Will are not the same as having the witnesses actually sign the Will.  As a result, the Court found that a Will is not valid when the witnesses only sign the Affidavit attached to the Will.

 

The Tennessee legislature essentially reversed this case by amending T.C.A. § 32-1-104.  This amendment provides that for any Wills executed prior to July 1, 2016, a witness signature affixed to an Affidavit which meets all of the requirements for witnesses under Tennessee law shall be considered signatures to the Will.  However, this statutory change requires that the signatures are made at the same time the Testator signs the Will and that the Affidavit contains language meeting all of the requirements of T.C.A. § 32-1-104(a).  As a result, T.C.A. § 32-1-104 now reads as follows (the new section that is added is subpart (b)):

 

(a) The execution of a will, other than a holographic or nuncupative will, must be by the signature of the testator and of at least two (2) witnesses as follows:

(1) The testator shall signify to the attesting witnesses that the instrument is the testator's will and either:

(A) The testator sign;

(B) Acknowledge the testator's signature already made; or

(C) At the testator's direction and in the testator's presence have someone else sign the testator's name; and

(D) In any of the above cases the act must be done in the presence of two (2) or more attesting witnesses.

(2) The attesting witnesses must sign:

(A) In the presence of the testator; and

(B) In the presence of each other.

(b) For wills executed prior to July 1, 2016, to the extent necessary for the will to be validly executed, witness signatures affixed to an affidavit meeting the requirements of § 32-2-110 shall be considered signatures to the will, provided that:

(1) The signatures are made at the same time as the testator signs the will and are made in accordance with subsection (a); and

(2) The affidavit contains language meeting all the requirements of subsection (a). If the witnesses signed the affidavit on the same day that the testator signed the will, it shall be presumed that the witnesses and the testator signed at the same time, unless rebutted by clear and convincing evidence. If, pursuant to this subsection (b), witness signatures on the affidavit are treated as signatures on the will, the affidavit shall not also serve as a self-proving affidavit under § 32-2-110. Nothing in this subsection shall affect, eliminate, or relax the requirement in subsection (a) that the testator sign the will.

 

Interestingly, this statute only applies to Wills executed prior to July 1, 2016.  As a result, this is not a statute that should be relied upon for Wills following July 1, 2016.  In fact, this statute should not be relied upon at all for any Wills that are drafted.  This statute is designed to correct prior Wills that are invalid under the Morris case.

 

As always, when having a Will drafted and executed, it is very important to have an experienced Tennessee Wills attorney involved in that process.  There are many pitfalls that can come up due to the statutory language.  When considering the relatively minimal cost to have a Will done in Tennessee, is better to pay that cost than to have significant litigation and disputes over the validity of a Will because of technical deficiencies.

 

Follow me on Twitter at @jasonalee for updates from the Tennessee Wills and Estates blog.

TAGS: Wills, Witnesses to will, Will Contest, Tennessee Probate Law
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Jason A. Lee is a Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC. Contact Jason at 615-540-1004 or jlee@burrowlee.com for an initial consultation on wills estate planning and probate issues.

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Tennessee Wills and Estates Blog
Jason A. Lee, Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC
611 Commerce Street, Suite 2603
Nashville, TN 37203
Phone: 615-540-1004
E-mail: jlee@burrowlee.com

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