In re Will of Ranney

The Facts

  • Lawyers omitted the attestation clause and used instead an affidavit designed for a two-step self proving will
  • Witnesses signed an affidavit  swearing that they had previously signed their names as witnesses during a stage in the execution ceremony that never actually occurred.
  • Witnesses never signed the actual will
  • Affidavit asserted that witnesses had signed actual will
  • Will gave W a LE in their apartment in Rumson, the rental income from other apartments in that building, and the tuition and rental income from Rumson Reading Institute (which was merged into Ranney School after execution of T’s will)
  • W was also to receive all of T’s personal property except for that necessary for the operation of the Institute
  • The residue was to be paid in trust to W, lawyer, and son-in-law (the latter 2 being executors)
  • W and 2 kids were to receive 32% each of trust income and to share equally income from Ransco Corp.
  • W’s daughter (T’s stepdaughter) was to receive the remaining 4%.
  • Will also directed that, upon W’s death, the apartment building and proceeds of Institute were to be turned over to the trustees of the school
  • Upon W’s death, income from Ransco was to be distributed between 2 kids
  • Upon their deaths, income from Ransco was to go to School
  • T died in April 1987

Procedural History

  • PC admitted will to probate in April 1987
  • W challenged probate (2 kids and school did not)
  • AC affirmed probate

The Issue

  • Whether TC erred in finding that T’s will was executed properly ever though it does not literally comply with statutory requirements

The Rule

  • Although a will need not literally satisfy the requirements of the statute, it must substantially comply with them.
  • If, after conducting a hearing in solemn form, the TC is satisfied that the execution of the will substantially complies w/ the

The Holding/Disposition

  • Yes, affirmed

Court’s Reasoning

  • A two-step self-proving will appends a separate affidavit to the end of the will. The witnesses, and often the testator, must sign the affidavit in addition to signing the will itself, after which the affidavit is notarized.
  • For a one-step self-proving will, the testator and witnesses sign only once, with the affidavit language folded into the attestation clause, after which the will is notarized.
  • Under either of these methods, the will is said to be self-proving because the affidavit sworn evidence of due execution.
  • The affidavit and the attestation clause serve different functions
  • Attestation clauses facilitate probate by providing “prima facie evidence” that T voluntarily signed the will in the presence of witnesses.
  • Affidavits are sworn statements by eyewitnesses that the will has been duly executed
  • Compliance w/ statutory formalities is important not for their own sake but for the purposes they serve
  • To avoid an absurd result, it is possible that strict adherence to formalities may not be necessary as it would frustrate the purpose of the rule

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