In a previous blog post, we discussed the fact that New Jersey law has trended away from a strict interpretation of what it takes to have a valid Will. For example, a Will is valid in New Jersey if the signature and material portions of the document are in the decedent’s handwriting, a so-called “Holographic Will.” Would that include a document written in the decedent’s own blood? In a recent case, the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court issued an opinion that says it would!
Warren Bradway and Marc Coleman were in a long-term relationship from 1997-2004. Bradway executed his Last Will and Testament in 2001, naming Coleman as his primary beneficiary and Executor. After the relationship ended, Bradway began a committed relationship with Kirston Baylock.
In 2006, Bradway drafted a one-page handwritten codicil to his 2001 Will, but did not sign it. The codicil was drafted in his own blood (it’s not clear from the court’s opinion why or precisely how Bradway did this). The Codicil named Baylock as Bradway’s primary beneficiary and Executor, directing that all references to Coleman in the 2001 Will be replaced with Baylock’s name.
Coleman contested the validity of the codicil. Handwriting and DNA experts testified that the codicil was written by Bradway and that it was his blood. Nevertheless, Coleman argued that the codicil was not valid as a Holographic Codicil because Bradway did not sign it.
However, even if a document is not properly witnessed or is not in the decedent’s handwriting and signed, it can still be considered a valid Will if it can be proven that the decedent intended to make a Will. The seminal case in this area involved a woman named Louise Macool. Ms. Macool went to her lawyer to change her Will. She provided him with detailed notes of the changes that were to be made. The lawyer made the changes and printed out a revised Will. However, Ms. Macool, having left the office to have lunch nearby, unfortunately died within an hour and never reviewed the revisions.
The court found that the Will drafted by the attorney was not valid because Ms. Macool never reviewed it (even though it was based on her notes) and therefore never gave her final assent to it. But many cases since Macool have found documents that did not fully comply with the statutory requirements for Wills were nevertheless valid because it could be proven that the decedent intended the document to be his or her Will.
In the case of Bradway’s codicil, the court found that the codicil clearly evidenced Bradway’s intent to modify his 2001 Will. We have said it before in this blog, but it bears repeating – New Jersey law is designed to ensure that a decedent’s true intentions are carried out if at all possible. Keep that in mind if a friend or loved was kind enough to think of you as a beneficiary but fell short in observing the typical formalities involved with making a Will.
If you have any questions about this post or any other matters, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.