Tuesday, March 12, 2013

In re Will of Ranney case brief

In re Will of Ranney case brief summary
124 N.J. 1

SYNOPSIS: Appellant will contestant sought review of the order of the Superior Court, Appellate Division (New Jersey), reversing the order of the chancery court, which had reversed an order to probate the will.

-Decedent executed an instrument purporting to be his last will and testament, but the two witnesses, required by N.J. Stat. Ann. § 3B:3-2 to sign the attestation clause of the will, only executed an attached self-proving affidavit.
-On decedent's death, the will was ordered to be probated, but the chancery court reversed, on appellant will contestant's motion, finding the attesting witnesses had not strictly complied with the requirements of § 3B:3-2.
-Respondent will proponent brought the matter before the appellate division, which reversed, ruling that the self-proving affidavit was part of the will and that the witnesses' signatures thereon constituted signatures on the will.
-Appellant sought review of the appellate division's order of probate, and the court affirmed.

Although it held that signatures on the self-proving affidavit did not comply with the requirements of § 3B:3-2, probate was proper, where an instrument substantially complied with the requirements of the law.
-It remanded the cause to the trial court for hearing to determine whether the decedent's instrument was in substantial compliance with §3B:3-2 and, if so, for the instrument to be probated as a will.

-A statute which allows a signed affidavit by attesting witnessed to be submitted along with the will requires that the witnesses have first signed the actual will.
-If a will is not formally executed in compliance with statutory requirements, then that will may still be admitted to probate if it substantially complies with the statutory requirements.

OUTCOME: The court affirmed the order of the lower court, approving decedent's will to be probated, over the objections of appellant will contestant. The court held that probate was proper where an instrument substantially complied with the requirements of the probate law even if it did not strictly comply with the law.

In re Will of Ranney (N.J. 1991) [29 CB 226]: Will included self-proving affidavit, but not an attestation clause, so when witnesses executed affidavit, they swore that they had previously attested the will, which was untrue.   
Rule: The self-proving affidavit signatures do not comply with signature requirement of NJ law, but doctrine of substantial compliance saves the will b/c the will substantially complies with requirement of NJ law.
a.   Court notes attestation shows witness properly saw testator sign (but can be called during will contest to testify to this), while affidavit does that as well as conclusively proving will was duly executed.
b.   Doctrine justified on grounds of absurdity to require conformance with Wills Act when such insistence would invalidate will that is voluntary testator act, which would thus frustrate the purposes of the formalities.
c.   Remedy is to treat the will as if it were conforming, rather than rewriting it.

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