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“I Signed What?”: Father’s Execution of Five-Year-Old Will Without Reading Leads Court to Invalidate Document

While the law creates a standard that presumes most wills to be valid, there are a variety of ways in which a will may be declared invalid. One recent ruling by the Wisconsin Court of Appeals clearly demonstrates the care and meticulousness that should go into executing a will, and the problems that can arise when such care is not taken.

For Floyd Heck, his foray into estate planning began in 2000 when his daughter-in-law, Kay Heck, asked him if he wanted to create a will. Floyd dictated the will’s terms to the daughter-in-law, but refused to sign, because he did not believe death was imminent. The will divided the man’s assets between his three sons and two grandchildren.

For five years, Floyd continued in his refusal. In 2005, he executed the document without comment, in the course of signing several items. Floyd did not re-read the will and no one read it to him at that time. In 2010, Floyd died and his son, Sheldon Heck, presented the 2005 will for probate. Another son, Harvey Heck, contested the will, arguing that the document was not valid because Floyd did not read it, or have it read to him, when he signed. The trial court agreed and invalidated the will.

Sheldon appealed this ruling, but the Wisconsin Court of Appeals upheld the lower court ruling. Even though the law states that duly signed wills are presumed to be valid, a person contesting the will can overcome this presumption by showing that the testator did not know the contents of the will when he signed it. Floyd clearly knew what was in the will when he met with his daughter-in-law in 2000, as she read the contents back to him and he stated his approval. This, however, was irrelevant since Floyd waited five more years to execute the will and never reviewed the will, or had anyone read it to him, at any time during those five years. No one read the will to Floyd at the time of execution and, because macular degeneration had diminished his sight, Floyd could not have read the will for himself by that time. Floyd also made nonsensical statements to the daughter-in-law the day after he signed the will, which further called into question Floyd’s ability to understand the will he had signed the day before, the court concluded.

Wills may seem like very basic documents, and the law favors recognizing most of them as valid, but there are still many specific, and important, procedures you must take great care to follow precisely if your will is to survive a court challenge after your death. Floyd Heck’s will might have survived its court challenge if the daughter-in-law would have simply said, “Let’s go over this again,” before execution. To get more information about will challenges and how to go about creating and executing your will, reach out to estate planning attorneys of Estate Law Partners, LLC. Their skill and experience can help guide through the process of putting a careful, legally sound will in place. Contact Attorney Daniel J. Krause or Nelson W. Donovan today.

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