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Lawyer Never Met With Client, and Will He Prepared Is Invalid

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Involving a lawyer usually helps to ensure that one’s wishes are carried out after death. As reported in last week’s Elder Law Issues, however, that is not always the result. It is important that the lawyer actually meets with and counsels the person signing a will—as is demonstrated in the case of Manival (“Doc”) Evans.

Doc Evans was eighty-nine when he was admitted to a Mississippi hospital, his cancer advanced and terminal. His close friend Madie Tinsley called attorney Marshall Sanders and told him that Mr. Evans wanted to redo his will. The attorney told her that he would not be able to meet with Mr. Evans in the hospital, and suggested that Ms. Tinsley get him a description of what Mr. Evans wanted.

Some time later Ms. Tinsley gave the attorney a description of what Mr. Evans wanted his will to say. The handwritten document, she assured him, was prepared by Mr. Evans. Based on that Mr. Sanders prepared a will for Mr. Evans.

Rather than meet with Mr. Evans to review the will, however, attorney Sanders handed the original to Ms. Tinsley, instructed her that she would need two witnesses and told her to go ahead and have Mr. Evans sign the will. Ms. Tinsley carried the original in her purse for three days, producing it for Mr. Evans’ signature while her own brother and daughter-in-law were visiting—they signed as witnesses.

When Mr. Evans died two weeks later, Ms. Tinsley offered the will for probate. It named her as the estate’s sole beneficiary, and appointed her as executrix.

Was Mr. Evans competent when he signed the will? Was he subject to undue influence by Ms. Tinsley? Did the will represent his true wishes? No one other than Ms. Tinsley may ever know. Because he never met his “client,” attorney Sanders could not testify about Mr. Evans’ competence or wishes. The handwritten instructions were no longer available (though it is not clear what happened to them). Although Mr. Evans’ doctors testified that he was surprisingly competent, given his condition, they had not discussed financial matters with him and so could not provide any insight into his ability to sign a will.

Because Ms. Tinsley had been involved in Mr. Evans’ financial affairs, because she had made the appointment with the attorney and the attorney had never met Mr. Evans, and because the fee for preparation of the will had been paid by Ms. Tinsley from her own money, the will was held to be invalid. If Mr. Evans truly intended to leave his estate to Ms. Tinsley, attorney Sanders did not help him do so. Estate of Evans, November 12, 2002.

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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.