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Niece’s Will Contest Dismissed Because She Lacked Standing

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Adelaide Briskman was 82 when she died in Florida. She left property in that state and in Pennsylvania, and a will that she had signed just five months before her death. She also left a controversy between her family and the beneficiary she had named in her will.

In the last months of her life Ms. Briskman had transferred most of her property to Mark Resop, the branch manager of her bank. The assets were mostly placed in joint tenancy, including over $2,000,000 in an investment account and her Florida condominium. Mr. Resop promptly began to spend the money she transferred into joint tenancy, and he sold her condominium shortly after her death.

The only significant asset not transferred into Mr. Resop’s name before Ms. Briskman’s death was a commercial property in Pennsylvania which housed a branch of Mellon Bank. Mr. Resop petitioned the Pennsylvania courts for admission of the will naming him as beneficiary, and he was appointed as executor. A year later Ms. Briskman’s niece, Julie K. Palley, filed a challenge to that will, alleging that Ms. Briskman was incompetent when she signed the will, or in the alternative that Mr. Resop had exerted undue influence to get her to sign the instrument.

If Ms. Palley was successful in challenging her aunt’s will, an earlier will would have become the “last” will of Ms. Briskman. That earlier document named her lawyer at the time, one Richard Rosin, as executor, and it would have left her estate to various charitable causes.

The Pennsylvania probate court ruled in favor of Ms. Palley, finding the will to be invalid. Mr. Resop appealed to Pennsylvania’s intermediate appellate court. That court saw the case differently.

In the opinion of the appellate court, Ms. Briskman’s niece simply had no standing to contest her aunt’s will. If she had been successful, the court pointed out, she would not have been named as executor—that role would have fallen to Ms. Briskman’s lawyer. She also would not have received any portion of her aunt’s estate, since it would all go to charity. If she had nothing to gain by her challenge, said the appellate court, she had no business filing it, and the court ordered that it be dismissed and Mr. Resop reinstated as executor. Estate of Briskman, September 9, 2002.

Although the circumstances of Mr. Resop’s acquisition of Ms. Briskman’s property may appear suspicious, there is good news in the appellate court decision. Laypersons often express concern about someone challenging their wills, and anxiety about will contests is a common theme in estate planning. In fact, only someone who stands to gain from such a contest is even permitted to object to probate of a will; that is one of the reasons that will contests are relatively rare.

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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.