Law School Case Brief
In re Estate of Burton - 189 Wash. App. 630, 358 P.3d 1222 (2015)
Wash. Rev. Code § 11.12.020(1) states that wills must be signed by the testator and attested by two witnesses to be valid.
Shorty before Ray Merle Burton died, he handwrote and signed a document in red ink that was witnessed and signed by Lisa Erickson, a nurse. Erickson stated in a declaration that the document was for the purpose of Burton leaving his property to Victor White, his caretaker. However, Erickson provided no testimony regarding the actual language used in that document, and she did not know what happened to the document. The day before Burton died, he handwrote another testamentary statement, in red ink, on a blank portion of a preprinted healthcare directive form. He apparently needed some assistance from Shirley Outson, a nurse, to complete the writing. In that testamentary statement, Burton left his assets to Victor White. When Burton died, White petitioned the trial court to recognize Burton’s statement on the health care directive form as his will and to name White as personal representative of Burton’s estate. Richard Didricksen, Burton’s cousin and legal heir, moved for an order declaring that Burton died intestate. The trial court granted Didricksen’s motion, finding that Burton had not executed a valid will and therefore had died intestate. White moved for reconsideration, which the trial court denied. White appealed, arguing that the trial court erred by concluding that Burton died intestate because Burton complied with the requirements of Under Wash. Rev. Code § 11.12.020(1), and executed a valid will by creating two equivalent documents, each witnessed by a different person.
Did Burton execute a valid will by creating two equivalent documents, each witnessed by a different person, thereby validly leaving all his assets to White?
The Court of Appeals of Washington held that Burton died intestate because his testamentary documents did not constitute a valid will since he did not strictly comply with the requirement in Wash. Rev. Code § 11.12.020(1) that two witnesses attest to a will. According to the Court, even if the substantial compliance doctrine applied to § 11.12.020(1), Burton did not substantially comply with the attestation requirement. Moreover, without evidence that two witnesses signed the same document, or at least identical duplicates of that document, White was unable to show that Burton complied with § 11.12.020(1). Hence, the Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court.
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