Don't Put Off SigningThat Will!

In 1826, a man lay dying in his bed. He was surrounded by his family and friends. He dictated his will and signed it in front of them. The two witnesses moved to an adjoining portion of his bedroom and signed their names to the will. In 1842, another man lay dying in his bed, again surrounded by his family and friends. He signed his will in front of everyone and the two witnesses moved to an adjoining portion of his bedroom and signed their names.

Relatives who thought they should have received more from the two dead men fi led lawsuits to have the wills declared invalid. The courts ruled that the fi rst one was valid; the second was not. Why? Because, in the 1826 case, the dying man, even though he didn’t turn his head and look at the witnesses signing his will, could have done so and seen the two men witnessing his will in the adjoining portion of his bedroom. In the 1842 case, the two witnesses in the adjoining portion of the bedroom were around the corner and out of sight. Why did this make a difference? Because the law states that a will must be witnessed “in the presence” of the person making the will. Within sight of the person making the will was “in the presence;” around the corner and out of sight was not.

I learned about these cases when a will I was probating was challenged by a relative who thought the decedent should not have left him out of her will. I was told that the decedent had signed her will in the presence of two neighbors, husband and wife, who had thereafter signed their names as witnesses. I soon learned that the wife had not come across the street with her husband to sign the will as a witness. After the husband, in front of the decedent, had signed off as a witness, he took the will across the street where his wife provided her signature as the second witness.

I immediately knew the will was invalid. But the decedent in my case had done something that allowed me to show the court that her will should not be invalidated. She had executed a ‘codicil’ to her will. A codicil amends a will and changes one or two items; it has to be signed and witnessed just like a will. If it’s a good one, it will have a paragraph that says it incorporates and republishes the will it is amending. This codicil in my case did contain those magic words and the will was saved, being brought back to life by the two new witnesses who signed the codicil “in the presence of” the decedent, and by the language that said the codicil “revived and republished” the earlier will.

You don’t want to spend your inheritance in litigation when something as simple as how a will is witnessed can go awry. Don’t let the courts, or greedy relatives, determine where your hard-earned money goes. Be proactive and check your will today.


What event in the Annapolis area are you most looking forward to in 2006?

Powerboat Show
Sailboat Show
Renaissance Festival
Seafood Festival
County Fair

Additional comments ?

Last time we asked, "How many past issues of Inside Annapolis Magazine do you have? " Out of all the responses, we found that most of our readers keep at least 3 issues of Inside Annapolis Magazine around the house, but a couple of our readers have over several years of issues! We're glad to hear that so many of you stay with us!

Thanks to all those that voted!

Results Posted Every Issue!!

Backyard Publications, LLC. ©2004. 433 Fourth St, Annapolis, MD 21403 - Phone 410-263-6300 - Fax 410-267-8668