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Judges examine estate case involving will, self-proving clause

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Deciding on an issue of first impression regarding the proper execution of a person’s will, the state’s second-highest appeals court has determined the Indiana General Assembly doesn’t want validly signed wills and self-proving clauses to be set aside lightly.

The ruling comes in Estate of Wilgus S. Gibbs, Sr., No. 81A01-1011-ES-560, stemming from an estate dispute out of Union County dating to late 2009. Wilgus S. Gibbs Sr. had his son, Wilgus Gibbs Jr., contact an attorney to have a will prepared quickly because of a progressive lung disease. The son told the lawyer that his father wanted the will to stipulate that Gibbs Jr. would receive the entirety of Gibbs Sr.’s estate and the man’s three granddaughters would be excluded.

Gibbs Sr. signed the will and a self-proving clause at the end of the document, and those witnessing his signature found him to be of sound mind. A day later, he went to the law office and spoke with the lawyer’s secretary who’d witnessed him sign the document and thanked her. He also told her that he’d excluded the granddaughters because he had already given his daughter – their mother – substantial assets before she died in 2006.

The man’s health rapidly deteriorated and he died Jan. 8, 2010, and his son became the personal representative on the estate and executor of the will. Less than a month after Gibbs Sr. died, the granddaughters filed a complaint to contest the will. Both sides filed for summary judgment, and in October 2010, the trial court denied the granddaughters’ motion for summary judgment and granted the motion filed by Gibbs Jr.

On appeal, the granddaughters argued that it’s undisputed that Gibbs Sr. didn’t properly publish his will at the time he signed it, despite the signature of the self-proving clause. They cited testimony from two witnesses who saw Gibbs Sr. sign the document but couldn’t recall him specifically saying he knew it was his will or not.

But the claim of “undisputed” evidence of a failure to publish overlooks the self-providing clause, the appellate panel wrote. The judges noted that Indiana cases have previously explored what happens when inconsistencies exist between a self-proving clause to a will and subsequent witness testimony, and that a fact finder must resolve those discrepancies, but that none of that precedent involved the question of whether the discrepancies could be resolved by summary judgment.

The panel cited Indiana Code 29-1-7-13(c) that says a self-proving clause in a will creates a rebuttable presumption that the document was properly executed, and that publication of the will is one aspect of its execution.

“We conclude that this uncertainty or lack of memory as to the particulars of the will execution ceremony is insufficient as a matter of law to overcome the presumption, provided by the self-proving clause, that the will was properly executed,” Judge Michael Barnes wrote, noting that legislative history and court precedent in 2003 provides that finding.

Looking to appellate caselaw from Illinois in 1958 and 1970, the Indiana court panel found that precedent as persuasive for this state in determining the weight Hoosier lawmakers intended for self-proving clauses to have in the context of will validity.

The granddaughters lost on that claim, as well as their argument that Gibbs Sr. was unduly influenced to sign the will by his son. The appellate judges also determined the granddaughters waived their claim of mistake or fraud because they didn’t cite any relevant legal authority.


 

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  1. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  2. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  3. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

  4. When I hear 'Juvenile Lawyer' I think of an attorney helping a high school aged kid through the court system for a poor decision; like smashing mailboxes. Thank you for opening up my eyes to the bigger picture of the need for juvenile attorneys. It made me sad, but also fascinated, when it was explained, in the sixth paragraph, that parents making poor decisions (such as drug abuse) can cause situations where children need legal representation and aid from a lawyer.

  5. Some in the Hoosier legal elite consider this prayer recommended by the AG seditious, not to mention the Saint who pledged loyalty to God over King and went to the axe for so doing: "Thomas More, counselor of law and statesman of integrity, merry martyr and most human of saints: Pray that, for the glory of God and in the pursuit of His justice, I may be trustworthy with confidences, keen in study, accurate in analysis, correct in conclusion, able in argument, loyal to clients, honest with all, courteous to adversaries, ever attentive to conscience. Sit with me at my desk and listen with me to my clients' tales. Read with me in my library and stand always beside me so that today I shall not, to win a point, lose my soul. Pray that my family may find in me what yours found in you: friendship and courage, cheerfulness and charity, diligence in duties, counsel in adversity, patience in pain—their good servant, and God's first. Amen."

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