Chancery Court Admits Unsigned Last Will and Testament to Probate

The decedent, William Anton, was survived by his wife, with whom he was in the midst of divorce proceedings, and by his three children. A few weeks before his death, Mr. Anton, along with his son-in-law Keith, met with an estate attorney. After Mr. Anton told the attorney that he did not know where his Will was, the attorney told him that if he died intestate during the divorce proceedings, his wife would inherit his estate. Mr. Anton asked the attorney to prepare a new Will, leaving his estate to his children. He also asked the attorney to prepare a durable power of attorney and healthcare directive, naming his son-in-law Keith as his agent and his daughter as substitute.

The attorney and Mr. Anton’s son-in-law Keith exchanged correspondence in which, inter alia, Keith advised the attorney that Mr. Anton wished his estate to pass to his three children outright, rather than having a portion in trust as originally planned; and that he wished the sole executor to be Keith, rather than his two children as originally planned.

The attorney forwarded drafts of these estate documents to Mr. Anton, in care of Keith. Thereafter, Keith called the attorney’s office, advised that Mr. Anton approved the documents, and scheduled an appointment for Mr. Anton to come to the office and sign the documents. Mr. Anton died the day of the appointment without having signed his estate documents.

In support of the Order to Show Cause to admit the unsigned will to probate, Mr. Anton’s attorney certified that the Will presented for probate was identical to the drafts forwarded to Mr. Anton. Mr. Anton’s son-in-law Keith also provided a supporting affidavit. No opposition was filed and the matter was decided based on the paper submissions.

The Honorable Robert P. Contillo, P.J.Ch., granted the application. Citing N.J.S.A. 3B:3-3, In re Macool and In re Estate of Erlich, the Court found that it was not necessary for the writing submitted for probate to have been signed by the decedent. The judge accepted the scrivener’s affidavit that the Will presented was identical to the one sent to the decedent, and the son-in-law’s affidavit attesting that the decedent reviewed and expressly approved that draft. Judge Contillo found no suggestion of lack of capacity or infirmity on the part of the decedent, or anything else to cast doubt on the facts asserted. Therefore, the Court admitted the unsigned Will to probate.

A copy of In re Estate of Anton can be found here –  Matter of the Estate of William Anton

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