RCO Law Wins Unanimous Ohio Supreme Court Reversal: Ohio's Voiding Statute Applies to all Written Wills Admitted to Probate

December 23, 2020

In a case of first impression in the State of Ohio, RCO Law recently secured a unanimous decision from the Ohio Supreme Court confirming that R.C. 2107.15, known as Ohio’s Voiding Statute, applies to all written wills admitted to Probate Court. The important ruling resulted in RCO Law’s client prevailing in a bitter will contest action.

The case arose out of the events of December 22, 2006, when Joseph Shaffer, in declining health, asked for a notecard and wrote:

My estate is not/completely settled/all of my sleep network/stock is to go to/Terry Shaffer/Juley Norman for/her care of me is to/receive ¼ of my estate/Terry is to be the/executor./This is my will. - [/s/ Joseph I. Shaffer].

Juley Norman and her son Zachery watched the decedent draft and sign the notecard, but neither Juley nor Zachery signed the notecard identifying them as witnesses to the execution of the 2006 writing.

After Mr. Shaffer died, Zachery Norman filed an Application to Admit the notecard to the Lucas County Probate Court, seeking distribution of the Shaffer estate in a manner consistent with the notecard instructions. Following a hearing on the Application pursuant to R.C. 2107.24, Ohio’s “harmless error” or “Remediation Statute”, the Lucas County Probate Court denied admission of the notecard as a will. Zachery Norman appealed, and the Sixth District Court of Appeals held that the Remediation Statute eliminates the requirement of witness competency and accordingly, the voiding provision of R.C. 2107.15 does not apply to essential witnesses to a remediated will.

RCO Law attorneys Corey Tomlinson, Paul Croy, Sarah Corney, and Kayla Henderson appealed the Sixth District Court of Appeals’ decision. The Ohio Supreme Court agreed to review whether Juley, as a would-be beneficiary under the notecard will, and as one of only two witnesses to its execution, could receive the bequest to her in the will. On December 16, 2020, the Ohio Supreme Court settled the issue in a unanimous 7-0 ruling. The Court held that Juley could not take under the 2006 notecard, because:

R.C. 2107.15 controls the testamentary dispositions to essential witnesses as a matter of law after a will is admitted to probate regardless of whether it is admitted pursuant to R.C. 2107.03 or 2107.24. Further, the plain language of R.C. 2107.24 neither refers to nor provides alternatives to R.C. 2107.15 or to any statutes that govern the competency of witnesses. The voiding provision of R.C. 2107.15 therefore applies equally to essential witnesses to both formally compliant and remediated wills.

The Ohio Supreme Court’s decision provides welcome and important certainty and transparency for Ohioans intending to leave instructions as to disposition of their property upon death. The ruling confirms that the application of the Voiding Statute to wills admitted pursuant to the Remediation Statute, and treated like formally executed wills, ensures the integrity of the will execution process.

RCO Law is pleased to have successfully prevailed for its client, preventing dilution of the estate and effectuating the clear intent of the Ohio legislature through the interplay between the Voiding and Remediation statutes.

This case demonstrates RCO Law’s unwavering commitment to serving clients and the firm’s depth of experience in estate planning, wealth preservation, trust and probate administration and litigation. To learn more or to speak with an attorney in the Estate Planning & Wealth
Preservation Practice, please contact Attorneys Sarah Corney or Paul Croy.

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