When a loved one dies, it is a time of grieving, pain and sorrow. The grief and sorrow can turn to frustration and even anger when the deceased’s wishes for his estate are not followed. Sometimes the person’s wishes are not followed because the person did not have testamentary capacity (was of unsound mind) or was unduly influenced. Other times, the person’s wishes are not followed because those wishes were not properly adopted in a legally enforceable will. Irrespective of the reason for the question or dispute, it is often helpful to consult with an experienced Arizona probate attorney.
The question in Wagoner v. Aleman, decided by the Arizona Court of Appeals on May 19, 2015, was whether Jeanine Jones’ partially typed and partially hand-written will was valid and enforceable under Arizona probate law.
In that case, Elisa Aleman was Jones’ natural granddaughter. Elisa’s natural mother died shortly after Elisa was born and Elisa was legally adopted six months later. Despite the adoption, Jones reconnected with Elisa and they remained close until Jones died on August 31, 2012.
Before she died, Jones prepared what was labeled a “Last Will and Testament” on a computer. The document provided that Elisa was to inherit 50% of the sale of Jones’ property in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. Later, Elisa stated that she was present when Jones made handwritten changes to the Will. The changes reduced Elisa’s share to 25%. Jones initialed all of the changes, except one that remained basically unchanged from the original document. Only Jones and a notary signed the document.
After Jones died, her sister opened probate, claiming that Jones died intestate (without a will). Elisa then filed a petition seeking to admit the typed/handwritten will to probate, whereby she would inherit 25% of the sale proceeds of the Lake Havasu City, Arizona property. Elisa claimed that the will was a valid holographic will and Jones’ sister objected. Elisa also argued that even if the will was not valid and Jones died without a will that she was Jones’ heir under Arizona’s intestatcy laws, such that Elisa was entitled to Jones’ estate.
The Will Was Invalid Under Arizona Probate Law
Before specifically addressing the requirements to create a valid will, the Arizona Court of Appeals noted that there was no right to create a will under the common law. Rather, the right to create a will is granted by statute. And, the statutory requirements must be followed. “As a result, failure to comply with statutory requirements may render a purported will invalid even if it accurately reflects the testator’s wishes.”