Stevens v. Casdorph

The Facts

  • Ds took T to bank to execute will in May 1996.
  • T had Pauley (bank employee and notary) witness execution of will
  • Pauley took will to 2 other bank employees (Waldron and McGinn) to sign the will as witnesses
  • Both W and M signed will
  • However, W and M never saw T sign will
  • T did not accompany Pauley when she had W and M sign the will
  • T died in July 1996
  • Will named D as executor and left the bulk of estate to Ds

Procedural History

  • Ps (who would share in T’s intestate estate) moved to have the will set aside
  • Ps asserted that T’s will was not executed according to statutory requirements
  • Both Ps and Ds moved for summary judgment
  • Ps motion was denied
  • Ds motion was granted
  • Ps appeal

The Issue

  • Whether the will should be voided since the procedural requirements of the execution of a will were not properly followed

The Rule

  • No will shall be valid unless it be in writing and signed by the testator, or by some other person in his presence and by his direction, in such manner as to make it manifest that the name is intended as a signature; and moreover, unless it be wholly in the handwriting of the testator, the signature shall be made or the will acknowledged by him in the presence of at least two competent witnesses, present at the same time; and such witnesses shall subscribe the will in the presence of the testator, and of each other, but no form of attestation shall be necessary.

The Holding/Disposition

  • Yes, reversed

Court’s Reasoning

  • Statute calls for T to sign his/her will or acknowledge such will in the presence of at least 2 witnesses at the same time and such witnesses must sign the will in the presence of T and each other
  • W and M did not actually witness each other sign the will
  • Ds argue that substantial compliance is sufficient since everyone involved knew what was going on, which is why the TC found in their favor
  • TC also found there was no evidence of coercion, fraud or undue influence
  • The law favors testacy over intestacy.
  • However, both a testamentary intent and a properly executed written instrument are essential to the creation of a valid will
  • Mere intent to execute properly is not enough

Dissents or Concurrences

  • Accuses majority of worshiping form over substance and reaching a result that is “harsh and inequitable” and “wholly contrary to the indisputable intent” of T
  • Result is against the spirit and intent of our law relating to wills
  • Calls it an absurd result since T obviously wanted  his property to go to Ds

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