Matter of the Estate of P.G. – A “Conformed,” but Unsigned, Copy of a Last Will and Testament Admitted to Probate in New Jersey
In the Matter of the Estate of P.G., Deceased – A “Conformed,” but Unsigned, Copy of a Last Will and Testament Admitted to Probate in New Jersey
After our law office prepares a Last Will and Testament and other estate documents for a client, we conduct a signing ceremony and then give the client the original and one photocopy of the Will. Other attorneys have similar procedures. On occasion, however, rather than provide clients with a photocopy of the fully executed Will, an attorney will instead provided clients with a “conformed” copy, which may contain signatures of the testator and witnesses signed by a member of the attorney’s staff followed by the “/s” indicator, or containing no names but showing the symbol “/s/” on signature lines. The symbols “/s” and “/s/” on estate documents indicate that the original Will contains the original signatures of the testator and witnesses. A “conformed” copy of a Will is considered to be unsigned, however, and may not be admitted to probate if the original Will is lost.
We recently had a “conformed,” but unsigned, copy of a decedent’s Last Will and Testament admitted to probate via court application. The decedent, P.G., who was domiciled at the time of his death in Kenilworth, New Jersey, died on July 11, 2013. He left a will dated December 23, 1996, We represented K.G., the decedent’s daughter.
The decedent’s will was a photocopy of a properly prepared, wholly written and dated Last Will and Testament prepared by decedent’s attorney. However, the will did not bear the decedent’s signature. Instead, the copy of the will appeared to have been conformed by the attorney’s law office staff: rather than bearing the decedent’s actual signature, the signature line reads, “P.G.[full name] /s” and was presumably in the handwriting of the attorney’s law office staff. Similarly, the attestation, witness and notary signature lines bore, in the same handwriting as that contained in the decedent’s signature line, the names of those witnesses, also followed by the symbol “/s”. It also appeared that the computer-generated Last Will and Testament, which had included blank spaces for the date of execution and for one of the witnesses, included a date and witness name which were later typed into the document, also presumably by the attorney’s law office staff. The witnesses to the will (the attorney and the decedent’s wife) are now both deceased. The individual believed to have been the notary, who is believed to be in her eighties, was contacted regarding the case, but no response was received.
The decedent’s wife, who survived the decedent by two months, also had in her possession her own mirror conformed will, executed on the same date as her husband’s but with the same “/s” designations instead of original signatures.
Unfortunately, by the time the family discovered that the will copies being maintained by the decedent and his wife bore conformed rather than actual signatures, the decedent was incapacitated and was unable to rectify this situation with respect to his will. However, following the discovery of this situation, the decedent’s wife went to a new law firm and had her own new Last Will and Testament prepared and fully executed.
Plaintiff, my client and the decedent’s daughter, moved to admit the conformed copy of the decedent’s will for probate. The application was supported with a brief. The law in the brief supporting the admission of a conformed but unsigned copy of a will is set forth in this blog post. Many certifications from the beneficiaries of the Will and the decedent’s family and friends were also submitted to the Court in support of the application.
On March 20,2914, Hon, Katherine R. Dupuis, P.J.Ch. entered a Judgment admitting the conformed but unsigned copy of P.G.’s Last Will and Testament to probate.
Readers in possession of a loved one’s unsigned copy of a Will may achieve success in getting the unsigned copy of the Will admitted to probate by filing an application with the court.