August 2018

Posted August 21, 2018

In the Matter of the Estate of Georgianna Dodd, C.A. No. 11931-VCMR (August 20, 2018)

       In this case, Vice Chancellor Montgomery-Reeves issued a post-trial opinion finding that the will at issue was valid but had been revoked prior to death. The Vice Chancellor also denied the Petitioner’s request for fees.

       Georgianna Dodd (“Dodd”) made the will at issue (the “Will”) in 1980. It was witnessed by three witnesses and also notarized. In 2013, Dodd died. Respondent opened the estate and stated that Dodd had no will; the estate opening documents also omitted Petitioner from the list of surviving relatives. Petitioner was unware that Respondent had opened the estate. When she learned of it, Petitioner filed her petition and sought to admit a copy of the Will into probate, among other relief.

       The Vice Chancellor found that the Will was validly executed. All three of the witnesses to the execution of the Will testified at trial or via deposition. Their testimony was not entirely consistent, but decades had passed warranting some deference. The Court also found that the discrepancies in their testimony did not go to the crux of the issue—whether the witnesses signed the Will in the presence of Dodd. Delaware only requires two witnesses for a valid will.

       Next, the Vice Chancellor had to decide (1) whether the Will was lost or unintentionally destroyed and (2) Dodd’s testamentary intent. The Court found that there was insufficient evidence to show that the Will was lost or unintentionally destroyed. The Vice Chancellor also found that the Petitioner had not shown that Dodd’s testamentary intent was not altered before her death. There was even some testimony suggesting that Dodd might have wanted to intentionally destroy the will. Because Petitioner had not shown that Dodd’s testamentary intent was not altered before her death, the Vice Chancellor ruled that the court must presume that Dodd intended to revoke the Will.