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Friends Help Draft Will, But Do Not Benefit From Bequest

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JULY 27, 1998 VOLUME 6, NUMBER 4

Diana Marks was a professor at Whitworth College in Washington state, and a devout Christian. Ms. Marks, who had never married and had no children, was particularly close to Eldon and Judith Blanford, who (with her help) organized and operated “Personal Freedom in Christ Ministries,” a religious organization.

In 1994, Ms. Marks was diagnosed with cancer. During her illness, her friends the Blanfords took her into their home and helped care for her.

The evening before a scheduled surgery, Ms. Marks indicated that she wanted to make a new will. Ms. Blanford contacted her own attorney the next morning, but he told her that he would be unable to see Ms. Marks for several days. He suggested that Ms. Marks could make a temporary will by filling out forms she could purchase at a stationery store.

With Ms. Marks’ permission, Ms. Blanford went to a local Office Depot store and bought a pre-printed will kit. After reading the kit’s instructions, Ms. Marks began to talk about how she wanted to distribute her estate; Ms. Blanford took notes during these conversations.

The day after Ms. Marks’ surgery, Ms. Blanford typed the will kit’s language into her home computer. She printed out a first draft of the will and gave it to Ms. Marks to review. Ms. Marks corrected several typographical errors, but made no substantive changes to the draft.

Over the next several days, Ms. Marks reviewed at least two more drafts of the will, and discussed the provisions at length with her sister (who had arrived from Texas). She expressed concern that family members would not like the will’s provisions, but was consistent in her estate plan. Ms. Marks signed the will six days after her surgery and died two weeks later.

The will left Ms. Marks’ home to her sister, and substantial bequests to no only her sister but a brother, a nephew and a developmentally disabled niece. She also left property to her personal secretary, a church friend and the church she regularly attended (and which she had served as a minister on an interim basis). She also left money to several other religious organizations, including $100,000 to the organization run by the Blanfords. She named Mr. Blanford as personal representative of her estate.

As Ms. Marks feared, at least one family member disapproved. Her brother Hartwell Marks contested the validity of the will, alleging that the Blanfords had unduly influenced her. He also argued that the Blanfords had engaged in the unauthorized practice of law in preparing the will for Ms. Marks’ signature.

After hearing from 19 witnesses during a four-day trial, a judge found that the Blanfords had not unduly influenced Ms. Marks. In fact, the judge ruled, the evidence was that Ms. Marks was very clear and strong-willed in her wishes.

The court also found, however, that the Blanfords had practiced law without a license. Mr. Blanford was removed as personal representative, and the bequests to the Blanfords and their religious foundation were voided. Because the judge found that the practice of law had been inadvertent, however, he did allow Mr. Blanford to collect his attorney’s fees from the estate, despite having been removed as personal representative.

The Washington Court of Appeals agreed. “The selection and completion of preprinted form legal documents is also deemed the ‘practice of law,'” said the court. Because a lawyer would not be permitted to write herself (or an organization she controlled) into a will, the Blanfords would be held to the same standard. Estate of Marks, March 31, 1998.

The result in Arizona might not be the same. Arizona has no statute prohibiting the unauthorized practice of law; that might mean that the Blanfords could still inherit. Most likely, though, the will would be upheld in Arizona as well.

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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.