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Claimant In Will Contest Not Entitled To Trial By Jury

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Alaskan Lillie M. Rahm was in her early nineties when she first met handyman Robert Riddell, then in his mid-sixties. Their friendship grew quickly, and Mr. Riddell moved in with Ms. Rahm within a few months. Two years later friends and relatives instituted legal proceedings that lasted well past Ms. Rahm’s death.

When Ms. Rahm revoked a power of attorney naming her daughter as agent and transferred some of her money into a joint bank account with Mr. Riddell, her daughter began to ask questions about her mother’s finances. Ms. Rahm seemed to be confused and Mr. Riddell refused to allow her access to any information, so Ms. Rahm’s daughter filed a conservatorship petition. Four days later Mr. Riddell and Ms. Rahm were married.

That did not stop the legal proceedings, however. After a hearing the public guardian was appointed as Ms. Rahm-Riddell’s conservator. Shortly after that a domestic violence complaint was filed, alleging that Mr. Riddell physically attacked and verbally abused his wife. The public guardian moved her to an assisted living home in Washington; Mr. Riddell found her, removed her from the facility and took her to Oregon to live with him. He refused to reveal her whereabouts despite court orders; Ms. Rahm-Riddell died in Oregon in 1997.

It turned out that Ms. Rahm-Riddell had signed two wills after meeting Mr. Riddell. The first, signed shortly after their meeting, left her home, its contents and one-fourth of the rest of her estate to Mr. Riddell. The second, signed in Oregon just a few months before her death, left her entire estate to Mr. Riddell.

Ms. Rahm-Riddell’s family asked the Alaska courts to admit an earlier will to probate and Mr. Riddell objected. He insisted that the last will she signed was valid, and he demanded a jury trial as to her competence to make the will. Her daughter and brother argued that she was not competent at the time, that Mr. Riddell had unduly influenced her, and that the matter should be tried without a jury.

The Alaska court refused to grant a jury trial and ultimately ruled that only the will signed before Mr. Riddell’s appearance on the scene was valid. Mr. Riddell appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court.

The general rule in Alaska (as it is in Arizona) is that civil matters are decided by the judge unless there is a specific statute or the common law (the rules predating statehood) authorizes a jury. Since will contests were unknown to the common law and no statute permits it, Mr. Riddell’s demand for a jury trial was properly denied. Furthermore, said the Court, the evidence was clear that Ms. Rahm-Riddell could not correctly identify the individual involved in her life at the time the will was executed. Mr. Riddell’s wills were struck down. Riddell v. Edwards, October 5, 2001.

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Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

Famous people's wills

Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.