Law School Case Brief
Taylor v. Holt - 134 S.W.3d 830 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2003)
A computer generated signature made by a deceased falls into the category of "any other symbol or methodology executed or adopted by a party with intention to authenticate a writing or record," in Tenn. Code Ann. § 1-3-105(27) (1999), and, if made in the presence of two attesting witnesses, is sufficient to constitute proper execution of a will.
Steve Godfrey (Deceased) prepared a document in January of 2002, purporting to be his last will and testament. The one page document was prepared by Deceased on his computer. Deceased asked two neighbors, Hershell Williams and Teresa Williams to act as witnesses to the will. Deceased affixed a computer generated version of his signature at the end of the document in the presence of both Hershell and Teresa Williams. Hershell and Teresa Williams then each signed their name below Deceased's and dated the document next to their respective signatures. In the document, Deceased devised everything he owned to a person identified only as Doris. Deceased died approximately one week after the will was witnessed. Defendant Doris Holt, Deceased's girlfriend, who lived with Deceased at the time of his death, filed an Order of Probate attempting to admit the will to probate and requesting to be appointed the personal representative of the estate. Plaintiff Donna Godfrey Taylor, Deceased's sister, filed a complaint alleging, inter alia, that she was the only surviving heir of Deceased, that Deceased died intestate, that the document produced for probate was void because it did not contain Deceased's signature, and that Defendant Doris Holt has no blood relation or legal relation to the Deceased and should not have been appointed administratrix of Deceased's estate. The trial court granted Defendant’s motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff sought appellate review.
Did the computer-generated signature on the will comply with the legal requirements for the execution of a will?
Under Tenn. Code Ann. § 32-1-104, the execution of a will, other than a holographic or nuncupative will, must be by the signature of the testator and of at least two (2) witnesses. Signature, as defined in the aforementioned statute, “includes a mark, the name being written near the mark and witnessed, or any other symbol or methodology executed or adopted by a party with intention to authenticate a writing or record, regardless of being witnessed." In the case at bar, the Court noted that the deceased made a mark by using his computer to affix his computer generated signature, and, as indicated by the affidavits of both witnesses, this was done in the presence of the witnesses. The computer generated signature made by Deceased falls into the category of "any other symbol or methodology executed or adopted by a party with intention to authenticate a writing or record," and, if made in the presence of two attesting witnesses, as it was in the present case, was sufficient to constitute proper execution of a will. The Court further noted that the deceased simply used as computer rather than an ink pen as the total to make his signature, and, therefore, complied with Tenn. Code Ann. § 32-1-104 by signing the will himself.
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