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Testator Partially Revokes Will By Handwriting On Original

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MAY 31, 1999 VOLUME 6, NUMBER 48

J.B. Warren, Jr. had two children, Paul Warren and Anita W. LeCornu. After the death of his wife, he prepared a will leaving one piece of real estate to his son, another to his daughter, and all of his stocks, bonds and financial accounts to his son.

Mr. Warren suffered a stroke in 1987, and his ability to handle his own finances began to slide. He turned to a niece, Becky Taliaferro, to take care of his business matters. She later testified that she reviewed his will in 1991, and that there was a line drawn on the document itself. She did not investigate further because, she said, she felt like she was invading Mr. Warren’s privacy.

When Mr. Warren died in 1997, the original will was found in his papers. Someone had underlined the provision leaving all his stocks and bonds to his son, had enclosed it in double parentheses, and had written the word “void” and the initials “J.B.Jr.” above that section.

Several questions were immediately raised by the markings on Mr. Warren’s will. Were they made by Mr. Warren, or by someone else? If they were someone else’s markings, were they made at Mr. Warren’s direction? If they were made by Mr. Warren, did they have the effect of revoking all of his will, or any part of it?

Mr. Warren’s daughter insisted that she recognized the initials as her father’s, even though she had only seen him once in the six years before his death. Ms. Taliaferro, the niece handling his affairs, agreed that the initials were Mr. Warren’s. Paul Warren, Mr. Warren’s son, claimed that the writing and initials did not look like his father’s. The court, after considering the evidence, found that the markings were made by Mr. Warren.

Tennessee law, like that of most states, provides that a will can be revoked in its entirety or in parts. The revocation can be made by the will “being burned, torn, canceled obliterated or destroyed.” The question then became whether crossing out a paragraph and marking “void” is an effective revocation of that paragraph of a will. The Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled that Mr. Warren’s markings did revoke that provision of his will, leaving all of his stocks, bonds and securities to his two children equally. Estate of J.B. Warren, April 6, 1999.

Arizona law is similar to Tennessee’s. In Arizona, a will can be revoked in whole or in part, just as in Mr. Warren’s case. The law provides that revocation can be accomplished by any “revocatory act” upon the will itself–in other words, “by burning, tearing, canceling, obliterating or destroying the will or any part of it.” Mr. Warren’s marks would have been just as effective in Arizona as they were in Tennessee.

Even though Mr. Warren accomplished what we assume was his goal, there remain many questions. Did he really intend to leave all his assets to both of his children, notwithstanding the fact that he apparently was substantially estranged from his daughter? Did he perhaps intend to benefit others, maybe including his niece, or to leave his real estate in equal shares as well? Is it possible that someone else persuaded him to mark his will, or even marked it for him and forged his initials? All of these questions would be easier to answer if Mr. Warren had consulted with his attorney, explained his goals and had his will properly amended. Of course, his attorney might have simply prepared a new will for him–one that would have expressly revoked his old will.

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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.