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Capehart Scatchard Attorney Wins Groundbreaking Decision

Mt. Laurel, NJ – Capehart & Scatchard’s Thomas D. Begley, III obtained a significant decision in the Superior Court of New Jersey when he successfully argued that an unexecuted Will of a Burlington County resident be admitted to probated.

Thomas D. Begley, IIIIn February 2012 an individual consulted with an attorney to revise his Will. The Will was drafted and sent to him for review. On March 7, 2012, he contacted his attorney to let him know that he reviewed the Will and was satisfied with its contents. He was scheduled to sign the Will on March 19. However, he never signed that Will as he died suddenly on March 13.

The longstanding legal standard to admit a Will into probate is that it must be typed and executed by the testator in the presence of two witnesses (unless is it solely in the handwriting of and signed by the testator). Until recently, this law was strictly enforced.

The success in this case arose from the change in the NJ Probate Code in 2005 which acknowledged that certain Wills could be admitted to probate if they “substantially complied” with the statute. In 2010, in reliance upon the revised Code, attempted to introduce to probate an unexecuted copy of a Will to probate. His application was denied. However, NJ Appellate Division Court stated that circumstances might arise for allowing for same.

On August 3, 2012, Begley argued and the Court agreed that such circumstances existed in this case. In allowing the deceased individual’s unexecuted Will to probate, Judge Karen Suter determined that Begley presented clear and convincing evidence that: (1) the decedent had reviewed the Will prior to his death and (2) had agreed with its terms.

Begley offers this advice: Of course, all of us should strive to prepare our Wills in a customary fashion with the guidance of a competent estate planning attorney. Having said that, I am gratified that our firm was arguably the first in the State to have such a previously unexecuted document admitted to probate. Having known the decedent for many years, I am happy to know that his testamentary wishes will be observed.

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