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A Blog about Real Estate, How it Can Be Damaged, and Disputes Over its Transfer

This blog is a personal blog written to discuss legal issues affecting Georgia property, and how it is damaged, transferred, and fought over. I write this partly to keep abreast of the law, and partly to offer a forum for my writing. In order to find content, I often analyze Georgia Supreme Court decisions. I try to update this blog as I can, but writing is a time consuming process.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Georgia Standard for Invalidating Wills is High

A person will sometimes change his will when he enters a hospital and delete a child included in a past will from the new will.  The excluded child may then seek to challenge the change in the will claiming it was the result of undue influence, coercion, or an unsound mind.   Such changes, which can be made at a time of extreme physical duress of the testator affecting his thinking, can have devastating effects.  However, the cases in Georgia regarding the burden of proof that a challenger must meet make it difficult for the newly excluded child to invalidate the new will.  The Georgia Supreme Court started out 2012 with two cases regarding this issue.  First, the recent case of the Georgia Supreme Court in Prine v. Blanton, Appeal Case No. SA11A1315 (Jan. 9, 2012), reiterated the rules that create this high burden on persons seeking to challenge the will.

In Blanton, supra, the caveator challenged a will leaving most of the estate of her father to her three brothers.  Her father's change that excluded her was initially made in the month before the death.  Her father again executed a new will when he entered the hospital for the last time.   The beneficiaries who benefited from the change asked the court to rule as a matter of law on a motion for summary judgment against the claims of their sister to invalidate the will.  The daughter sought to invalidate the will in order to regain status as a beneficiary of the estate.  She claimed her father lacked testamentary capacity and had suffered from undue influence at the time he made the last will and testament in the hospital.  The court, however, granted the summary judgment against her upholding the will executed on  the decedent death bed.

The brothers relied on testimony of the treating physician at the time of the father's death, self proving affidavits attached to the will, and other testimony that the father knew what he was doing even though he was extremely ill.  The daughter pointed to the rapid decline of her father in the days before his death.

The case turned on the high standard that the person challenging a will must meet in Georgia to challenge a will.  The fact that the will was made at a time that the decedent was in the hospital was not enough to meet the standards for invalidating the will as the last expression of the testator's desires.

To emphasize the application of this rule, a person need turn no further than to another opinion issued by the Georgia Supreme Court on January 9, 2012.  In Parker v. Kelley, Appeal Case No. S11A1537 (Ga., Jan. 9, 2012), the Court issued a second opinion in the new year relying on the burden of proof to reject a challenge to a will on mental capacity.  Although the fact pattern was slightly different with a different emphasis in the overriding legal authority, the outcome and import was the same.

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