8106 – When Wills Won’t


Where there’s a will, there’s a way, but sometimes doing a will the wrong way means there’s no way and no will.  Golda lived to the ripe old age of 99.  When she was 89 she decided she should have a will naming just about every member of her family.  But when she was 95 she changed her mind and decided to make a new will that cut out the family and named her friend and caregiver, Mary, as her sole beneficiary.  There was only one problem – Golda didn’t have a lawyer, and when the will was signed it was witnessed by Mary’s adult daughter and her 14-year old granddaughter.  After Golda died, the original beneficiaries attacked the will.  The Court said the law unambiguously requires a will be signed by two attesting witnesses who are 18 years of age or older and if one of those witnesses is a minor, it is fatal.  Mary argued the doctrine of substantial compliance, which basically says if you’ve almost got it right, the law should cut you some slack.  But the Court said no way.  So wills are not child’s play, Mary’s out of luck, and Golda’s will will not be done after all.


Mary Norton v. Nancy Sevier Pickard Hinson, et al., Supreme Court of Arkansas, Imber, J., 1999 WL 298503 (see script no. 5477)