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Florida Man’s Will Presumed Invalid: He Had A Guardian

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John Haynsworth was a Florida multimillionaire. He had made his fortune in Miami Beach real estate investments. He had no children, so after his wife died in 1988, his closest family were nieces and nephews.

Mr. Haynsworth did have a long-time relationship with his attorney, Ted Blum. After his wife’s death, he sold his home and moved into an apartment; Mr. Blum represented him in that transaction. In February, 1993, Mr. Blum prepared a will for Mr. Haynsworth. In that will, he left most of his estate to the American Red Cross, the United Way and the Salvation Army. Mr. Blum also inserted a provision that guaranteed himself payment of 5% of Mr. Haynsworth’s estate for taking care of the probate.

A few months before the will was signed, Hurricane Andrew had wreaked havoc on southern Florida. Shortly after that crisis, Mr. Haynsworth’s niece Lisa Haynsworth-Jones visited him for a period of time in Miami. Immediately after the will was signed, she returned to Miami and helped her uncle purchase a new home. Apparently, Mr. Blum was unhappy that he had not been involved in the purchase of the home, and almost immediately filed a petition seeking appointment of a guardian and conservator for Mr. Haynsworth.

At a hearing in May, Mr. Haynsworth was found to be incapacitated and his niece Lisa was appointed as his guardian. Within a few weeks, however, he had hired a new attorney to prepare another will. This will, which was signed in July, substantially reduced the share of Mr. Haynsworth’s estate which would go to charities, and increased the share to Lisa and other family members. No provision was made for Mr. Blum in the new will.

In November of that same year, Mr. Haynsworth signed another new will. By the end of December, he had died at the age of ninety seven.

Mr. Blum filed the February will with the probate court, and Lisa Haynsworth-Jones objected and offered both the July and November wills instead. Within a few months, Lisa withdrew her request for admission of the November will and focused solely on the July will.

At trial, the November will was ruled invalid, because Mr. Blum had unduly influenced Mr. Haynsworth. The July will, which left most of the estate to family, was admitted as Mr. Haynsworth’s last valid will.

The Florida Court of Appeals reversed the trial court. The appellate court decided that, where a guardian has been appointed at the time of execution, there is a presumption that any will is invalid. The burden, according to the appellate judges, was on Lisa to show otherwise.

During the trial, Lisa had introduced the testimony of two physicians, neither of whom had evaluated Mr. Haynsworth around the time of the July will signing. She also produced one of the witnesses to the will itself, who testified that Mr. Haynsworth could carry a conversation, and that he was possibly lucid at the time. The Court of Appeals decided that her evidence was not strong enough to overcome the presumption of incapacity.

The Court of Appeals agreed with the trial judge’s finding that Mr. Blum had unduly influenced Mr. Haynsworth with regard to his own fee. The judges ruled, however, that just that section of the February will could be struck, without having to find the entire document invalid. In other words, Mr. Blum would receive nothing, and the bulk of the estate would go to the charities originally selected by Mr. Haynsworth. American Red Cross v. Estate of Haynsworth, February 18, 1998.

In Arizona, the result would probably be different. The appointment of a guardian does not raise a presumption of incapacity for purposes of making a will, and the burden of showing incapacity would have been on the charities challenging the July will. Depending on their evidence, the July will might have prevailed.

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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.