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Bill sure knew how to revoke his will!

He marked “void” over each paragraph; wrote “bastard” and “get nothing” on the will; and applied Liquid Paper over the names of the beneficiaries. He later shredded the document in the presence of his insurance agents….

But that wasn’t enough for his former in-laws, who had a photocopy of the will that Bill shredded. They claimed Bill was under “insane delusions,” lacking the mental capacity to effectively revoke his will. If the will was still valid, the in-laws would divide up an estate worth over four hundred thousand dollars. If not, the money would go to his blood relatives, passing by the rules for intestate succession, which apply to estates of persons who die without wills, or “intestate.”

In the 1940s, the Goza sisters, Wanda and Wilda, married Bill and Glenville. Glenville had dated Wanda first, but married Wilda. Bill married Wanda in 1945. In 1989, Bill made a will, leaving his estate to Wanda, naming Wilda and Wilda’s brother Paul as contingent beneficiaries, to receive the estate if Wanda died before Bill.

Bill and Wanda had no children. Wanda died in 2002, a year after the death of her sister Wilda. In 2006, in failing health, Bill decided to revoke his will in the manner described above.

After Bill’s death in 2006, Wanda’s brother Paul Goza filed a petition to probate Bill’s will with a photocopy of the will. But Bill’s friends had already filed a petition to be personal representatives for Bill’s intestate estate. Thus the court had to decide whether Bill had a valid will at the time of his death.

The trial court heard evidence of various people, including Paul Goza, the insurance agent who assisted Bill in shredding the original of the old will, Dr. Diner (a psychiatrist), and Dr. Burton (Bill’s physician).

Paul Goza testified that Bill suffered from insane delusions, falsely believing that Paul had stolen a bracelet from Wanda and that Wanda and Glenville had sex after Wilda’s death. Dr. Diner, though he had never met or examined Bill, testified that Bill suffered from delusional disorder, persecutory type, but he admitted that his diagnosis was really only “educated speculation.” Dr. Burton said that he had examined Bill in 2004 and concluded that Bill was mentally able to make a will.

The trial court considered the legal rules applicable to “testamentary capacity.”

The mental ability to revoke a will is governed by the same standard as the ability to make a will. In Arkansas, as in other states, adults are presumed to be sane and to be able to make contracts, manage their property, and make, amend, and revoke wills.

Under Arkansas case law, testamentary capacity is the ability of the testator (person making the will) to “retain in memory, without prompting, the extent and condition of the property to be disposed of, to comprehend to whom he is giving, and to realize the deserts and relations to him of whose whom he excludes from the will.”   Complete sanity in a medical sense is not essential. Unjust treatment or revenge does not automatically amount to lack of testamentary capacity.

A party seeking to prove lack of testamentary capacity has the burden of proof. Here, the evidence that Bill revoked his will was very strong, on the basis of the testimony of the witnesses. Paul Goza, in challenging the revocation, had to prove that Bill’s revocation was the product of Bill’s delusion. If there was any basis in fact for the delusion, the existence of the delusion would not justify setting aside the revocation.

The trial court held that Bill had effectively revoked his will. The appellate court, in Goza v. Estate of Potts, agreed. The court of appeals wrote:

The evidence clearly showed that Bill was an irascible, angry, suspicious, controlling, profane, and difficult man for most of his adult life; however, we cannot say that the trial court erred in refusing to find that he labored under insane delusions. There was some factual basis for Bill’s beliefs about Paul and Glenville, even if they were wrong.


About Harry Styron

I'm a lawyer and mediator who lives in Branson, Missouri, whose professional interests involve real estate, nonprofits, and local government. As of 2022, I'm shrinking my legal practice so that I have more time to mediate real estate disputes. I'm happy to mediate using video platforms like Zoom and WebEx, or in person anywhere in Missouri.

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