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Topic: Will Contest

Can You Have a Handwritten Will in Tennessee – and Should You?

Posted on Jul 30 2017 3:20PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

Some people decide to do Wills that are written in their own handwriting (handwritten Wills).  It is my advice that this is a very poor decision and you should always consult a Tennessee Wills attorney to help you make sure that this very important document is done correctly.  Even though that is my best advice, I know some people will ignore this advice.  As a result, I will answer the question.  Yes, you can have a handwritten Will but it is a very bad idea.  A handwritten will is called a holographic Will.  A holographic will must be done in the handwriting of the testator. 


There are three different types of Wills under Tennessee law that are allowed.


(1) Normal Will with execution completed pursuant to T.C.A. § 32-1-104.

(2) Holographic Will pursuant to T.C.A. § 32-1-105 (in handwriting of the testator)

(3) Noncupative Will pursuant to T.C.A. § 32-1-106 (will completed while in imminent peril of death)


Under Tennessee law a handwritten or holographic Will must comply with the specific requirements found in T.C.A. § 32-1-105 which provides as follows:


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TAGS: Holographic Will, Wills, Witnesses to will, Will Contest, Tennessee Probate Law Comments [0]

Can an Appointed Executor Contest the Will They Offered For Probate in Tennessee?

Posted on Feb 4 2017 12:23PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

A really interesting question was addressed by the Tennessee Court of Appeals recently on whether an executor who submitted a Will for probate and was appointed as executor can subsequently contest the terms of the Will.  The Tennessee Court of Appeals in the case of In Re: Estate of Ellra Donald Bostic, No. E2016-00553-COA-R3-CV, 2016 WL 7105213 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2016) dealt with the specific question of whether an appointed executor can contest the Will that is being probated. 


The Court noted that the legal doctrine that applies is “estoppel”.  The reason is because “executors, as fiduciaries, owe a duty of undivided loyalty to the Estate and must deal with the beneficiaries in the utmost good faith.” In re: Estate of Wallace, 829 S.W.2d 696, 705 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1992).  The named executor in a Will has “the duty to both offer the Will for probate and defend the Will against any challenges to its validity” citing Love v. Cave, 622 S.W.2d 52, 57 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1981).  The Court cited the most persuasive treatise on Wills and Probate issues, Pritchard on Wills, which states that “if the executor had knowledge of defects in the Will but nevertheless proceeded to probate it then the executor is estopped from contesting the Will.”  Bostic at 4 (citing Pritchard on Wills § 364).  


However, the Tennessee Court of Appeals has also held that an executor is not estopped from challenging a Will after presenting it to probate when “the executor offered the will for probate in good faith and without knowledge of the defects in its execution.”  Bostic at 4 (citing McClure v. Wade, 235 S.W.2d 835, 838 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1950).  When this situation occurs, the executor must resign from her position, and the “trial court should appoint an administrator of pendente lite to take charge of the estate and represent it during the pendency of the probate proceedings”.  Bostic at 4.  The trial court must make a determination as to whether the executor is estopped from challenging a Will based on whether they knew of the defects of the Will at the time the executor was appointed.  This is the initial threshold inquiry and once the Court makes that decision then the Court can determine whether the estoppel doctrine applies. Bostic at 4, 5.  In this particular case (Bostic case), the Court found that the trial court did not perform the proper analysis and, in fact, shifted the burden on this issue inappropriately and therefore the was remanded to the trial court to make a determination based on the Court of Appeals s...

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TAGS: Executor/Executrix, Will Contest, Tennessee Probate Law Comments [0]

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.

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TAGS: Wills, Witnesses to will, Will Contest, Tennessee Probate Law Comments [0]

How Do You Establish “Undue Influence” in Tennessee When Contesting a Tennessee Will?

Posted on Nov 1 2015 8:09PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

One of the most common ways that Tennessee Wills are contested is based on the theory of “undue influence”.  This is a broad category where a will can be contested based on the theory that the person benefitting from the Will exhibited influence over the decedent in an inappropriate manner.  One example would be where a person manipulated someone who had dementia or Alzheimer’s into changing their will for that person’s direct benefit (often to the exclusion of other family members). 


In order to establish that a Will was subject to “undue influence” in Tennessee, certain circumstances must be present.  This includes the following as notes by the Tennessee Court of Appeals:


The suspicious circumstances most frequently relied upon to establish undue influence are: (1) the existence of a confidential relationship between the testator and the beneficiary; (2) the testator's physical or mental deterioration; and (3) the beneficiary's active involvement in procuring the will.  In addition to proof of a transaction benefitting the dominant person in a confidential relationship, other recognized suspicious circumstances include: (1) secrecy concerning the will's existence; (2) the testator's advanced age; (3) the lack of independent advice in preparing the will; (4) the testator's illiteracy or blindness; (5) the unjust or unnatural nature of the will's terms; (6) the testator being in an emotionally distraught state; (7) discrepancies between the will and the testator's expressed intentions; and (8) fraud or duress directed toward the testator.


Kelley v. Johns, 96 S.W.3d 189 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2002).  The burden of proof to establish “undue influence” is on the individuals who are contesting the Will.  Tennessee courts have also provided the following helpful commentary on how “undue influence” must be established in Tennessee:


Invalidating a will because of undue influence is generally not a simple undertaking. While undue influence can be proved either by direct or by circumstantial evidence, direct evidence is rarely available. In re Estate of Maddox, 60 S.W.3d 84, 88 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2001). Thus, in most cases, the contestants establish undue influence by proving the existence of suspicious circumstances warranting the conclusion that the will was not the testator's free and independent act. Mitchell v. Smith, 779 S.W.2d 384, 388 (Tenn. Ct. App.1989). The courts have refrained from prescribing the type or number...

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TAGS: Will Contest, Tennessee Probate Law Comments [0]

How Do You Contest an Individual’s “Lack of Testamentary Capacity” to Execute a Will in Tennessee?

Posted on Sep 27 2015 2:43PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

One way to contest a will in Tennessee is to assert that the decedent had a “lack of testamentary capacity”.  Basically, this is an assertion that the individual who executed the will was not actually competent to execute the will.  Tennessee has many cases that discuss this claim in the context, most often, of a will contest situation.


The Tennessee Court of Appeals has said the following about what is required to establish “lack of testamentary capacity” contest to a will:


The law requires that the testator's mind, at the time the will is executed, must be sufficiently sound to enable him or her to know and understand the force and consequence of the act of making the will.  American Trust & Banking Co. v. Williams, 225 S.W.2d 79, 83 (1948). The testator must have an intelligent consciousness of the nature and effect of the act, a knowledge of the property possessed and an understanding of the disposition to be made. Goodall v. Crawford, 611 S.W.2d 602, 604 (Tenn. App. 1981). While evidence regarding factors such as physical weakness or disease, old age, blunt perception or failing mind and memory is admissible on the issue of testamentary capacity, it is not conclusive and the testator is not thereby rendered incompetent if her mind is sufficiently sound to enable her to know and understand what she is doing. American Trust, supra; 79 Am.Jur.2d Wills § 77 (1975).


If the individual who executes a Will does not meet the above factors, then the Will can be attacked under a theory of “lack of testamentary capacity”.  Medical evidence and testimony is best to be able to attack a Will under this theory.  If a doctor is willing to testify that the individual did not appreciate what they were doing at the time of the Will, then that could form a strong basis to defeat a Will.  One thing you can do to prevent a Will contest over this issues is to have a doctor assess the individual around the time they do their Will to make sure they have the mental capacity to make a will.

If you are going to pursue this kind of theory in Tennessee, then you need a competent Tennessee litigation attorney who handles Will contest cases in a probate litigation setting.


Follow me on Twitter at @jasonalee
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TAGS: Wills, Will Contest, Tennessee Probate Law Comments [0]

Who Has Standing to Contest a Will in Tennessee?

Posted on Aug 15 2015 10:49AM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

In Tennessee, a party who is going to contest a will must have proper “standing” to actually contest the will.  This basically means that the individual must have the authority under Tennessee Law to contest the will before they can do so.  If they do not have proper standing, then the Court will simply dismiss the case.  Tennessee Courts have provided guidance on who has standing to contest a will. 


The Tennessee Court of Appeals in Keasler v. Estate of Keasler, 973 S.W.2d 213 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1997) found that “in order to have standing to contest a will, the contestant must show that he would take a share of the decedent's estate if the probated will were set aside.”  What this means is that if there is a prior will that has not been probated, and that will is being put forward as the actual “real will” then the person who is contesting the will must actually be able to recover something in the prior proposed will.  If they are not a beneficiary or even named in the prior will, they simply will not have standing to contest the will. 


In the alternative, if a person is contesting a will as fraudulent or subject to undue influence, but there is no other prior proposed will, then to have standing the person must show they are entitled to recover money under the intestacy laws of Tennessee.  The intestacy laws of descent apply to show who gets a persons property if there is no will.  It is not enough to be a good intentioned family member, friend or close loved one of the decedent.  In order to contest a will under Tennessee law you must actually have the legal right to do so. 


Follow me on Twitter at @jasonalee for updates from the Tennessee Wills and Estates blog.
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TAGS: Will Contest, Tennessee Probate Law Comments [0]

Do Tennessee Courts Recognize Handwritten Wills?

Posted on May 11 2014 10:28PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

The short answer to this questions is simply yes, you can have a handwritten Will in Tennessee.  That is as long as it complies with the requirements for a holographic Will under Tennessee law.  The requirements for a holographic Will are found in T.C.A. § 32-1-105 which states,


No witness to a holographic will is necessary, but the signature and all its material provisions must be in the handwriting of the testator and the testator's handwriting must be proved by two (2) witnesses.


Therefore, if someone is going to have a handwritten Will in Tennessee, the important or “material” provisions in the Will must be entirely in the testator’s handwriting.  Additionally, the individual who made the Will must actually sign the Will.  Ultimately, the handwriting of the person who made the Will must be proved in Court by two witnesses.  If all these requirements are met, then a handwritten Will can be deemed valid in Tennessee.


Now I need to get on my soapbox.  Just because you can do your own handwritten will does not mean that this should be done.  I do not recommend that anyone prepare their own handwritten Will.  There are simply too many mistakes that can happen in this process.  There are many unintended consequences when people try to “save money” and do their own handwritten Will.  Tennessee law is filled with examples of significant mistakes that were unintentionally made by people who try to draft their own wills.  Unfortunately, at the point these mistakes are discovered, it is too late to correct the mistakes.  As a result, I recommend that everybody in Tennessee should have a Will done by a competent Tennessee Wills attorney.  It is not that...

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TAGS: Holographic Will, Wills, Will Contest Comments [0]

In Tennessee can a Will Submitted to Probate in Solemn Form be Challenged by a Later Filed Will Contest?

Posted on Apr 20 2014 10:12PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

The Tennessee Court of Appeals decision of In re: Estate of John Leonard Burke, No. M2012-01735-COA-R3-CV, 2013 WL 2258045 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2013) dealt with a situation where a will was submitted to probate in solemn form on December 19, 2011.  The trial court noted at that time that all potential beneficiaries had been served with notice of the hearing and that no objection was filed to the probate of the will.  On June 8, 2012, the deceased’s stepson filed a challenge to the will alleging that the will was “procured by the fraudulent inducement” of the deceased’s wife.  As a result, the question was whether this challenge, instituted approximately six months after the will was probated in solemn form, could be brought at that point. 


The Tennessee Court of Appeals ultimately held that when a will is submitted in solemn form under T.C.A. § 30-1-117(b) “a will contest must be initiated, if at all, prior to the entry of the final order admitting the will to probate in solemn form, not prior to the final order closing the estate.” Burke at 5.  Due to the fact the stepson in this case did not challenge the will until after the entry of the order entering the will in solemn form, the will contest was dismissed as untimely. 


Submitting a will in “solemn form” can be beneficial in certain circumstances although it is not necessarily justified in every case.  It can be beneficial if there is concern that one of the beneficiaries may want to contest the will at some point.  This can be a good strategy to force them to act rather quickly on the front end or forever lose the opportunity to contest the will. 


On the other side of things, if a party...

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TAGS: Solemn Form Probate, Probate Process, Wills, Will Contest, Tennessee Probate Law Comments [0]

How is a last will and testament proved as valid in probate court in Tennessee?

Posted on Mar 13 2013 4:19PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

T.C.A. § 32-2-104 provides requirements for establishing proof of a proper will under Tennessee law.  Specifically, T.C.A. § 32-2-104(a) provides as follows:


(a) Written wills with witnesses, when not contested, shall be proved by at least one of the subscribing witnesses, if living. Every last will and testament, written or nuncupative, when contested, shall be proved by all the living witnesses, if to be found, and by such other persons as may be produced to support it.


As a result, if the will is not contested by anyone then at least one of the witnesses, if living, must prove the will.  If the will is contested then all of the living witnesses that can be found must prove the will.  It is important to know that once prima facie evidence is submitted that a will is valid, the Tennessee Supreme Court has found that the burden to disprove the validity of the will then shifts to anyone who is contesting the will.  The Tennessee Supreme Court in Jackson v. Patton, 952 S.W.2d 404, 407 (Tenn. 1997) (citing Whitlow v. Weaver, 478 S.W.2d 57 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1970)) discussed this burden shifting when a will is contested as follows:


[T]he general rule is that the proponents of a will establish a prima facie case as to its due execution when the genuineness of the signatures of the testator and subscribing witnesses along with an attestation clause containing recitations of due execution is shown. Such a prima facie case in favor of the due execution of a will is not abandoned by presenting testimony of living witnesses which is otherwise.


Thus it is held that by virtue of the presumption the burden of going forward with the evidence shifts from the proponent of the will whose execution is at issue to the contestants.  The presumption is rebuttable, but it is established that, to overcome the presumption, the contestant must present “clear and satisfactory” proof of lack of due execution.


T.C.A. § 32-2-104(b) also provides a way to have the witnesses who signed the will (that live outside of Te...

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TAGS: Probate Process, Wills, Witnesses to will, Execution, Will Contest, Tennessee Probate Law Comments [0]

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