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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. Linda, I sure hope you are not seeking a law license, for such eighteenth century sentiments could result in your denial in some jurisdictions minting attorneys for our tolerant and inclusive profession.

  2. Mazel Tov to the newlyweds. And to those bakers, photographers, printers, clerks, judges and others who will lose careers and social standing for not saluting the New World (Dis)Order, we can all direct our Two Minutes of Hate as Big Brother asks of us. Progress! Onward!

  3. My daughter was taken from my home at the end of June/2014. I said I would sign the safety plan but my husband would not. My husband said he would leave the house so my daughter could stay with me but the case worker said no her mind is made up she is taking my daughter. My daughter went to a friends and then the friend filed a restraining order which she was told by dcs if she did not then they would take my daughter away from her. The restraining order was not in effect until we were to go to court. Eventually it was dropped but for 2 months DCS refused to allow me to have any contact and was using the restraining order as the reason but it was not in effect. This was Dcs violating my rights. Please help me I don't have the money for an attorney. Can anyone take this case Pro Bono?

  4. If justice is not found in a court room, it's time to clean house!!! Even judges are accountable to a higher Judge!!!

  5. The small claims system, based on my recent and current usage of it, is not exactly a shining example of justice prevailing. The system appears slow and clunky and people involved seem uninterested in actually serving justice within a reasonable time frame. Any improvement in accountability and performance would gain a vote from me. Speaking of voting, what do the people know about judges and justice from the bench perspective. I think they have a tendency to "vote" for judges based on party affiliation or name coolness factor (like Stoner, for example!). I don't know what to do in my current situation other than grin and bear it, but my case is an example of things working neither smoothly, effectively nor expeditiously. After this experience I'd pay more to have the higher courts hear the case -- if I had the money. Oh the conundrum.

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