MN Wills Held Invalid When Formalities Not Followed

Minnesota case law summary by Attorney Richard Clem: wills.

In re Estate of Esther Caroline Sullivan. MN wills

For a will to be valid in Minnesota, it must be in writing, it must be signed by the testator, and it must be signed by two witnesses within a reasonable time. In this case, the Koochiching County District Court was called upon to sort out three purported wills executed by Esther Caroline Sullivan during her lifetime. The first will was executed in 2006. It was signed by two witnesses and a notary and was deposited with the court administrator for safekeeping.

In 2008, she had some second thoughts about the disposition of the property. Therefore, she took a photocopy of the 2006 will and made some changes. She initialed the changes, and signed and dated the bottom of each page. In addition, she added that the 2006 will was "void and to be replaced with this and all written in changes." This document was not signed by any witnesses.

In 2010, she decided to make some more changes. She downloaded a form and filled in the blanks. But the execution of this document did not comply with all of the requirements, probably because it was not witnessed.

The district court held that the 2006 will, and only the 2006 will, was valid. The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed. The appeals court first quickly concluded that the absence of formalities rendered both the 2008 and 2010 purported wills invalid. The question of the 2006 will's validity was a bit more complicated, since it was arguably revoked in 2008, even if it was not replaced by another will. One party cited In Re Nelson's Estate, 183 Minn. 295, 236 N.W. 459 (1931), in which a will was held to be revoked by the testator tearing the signature off the will itself and crumpling it up. But in this case, where the writing was on a photocopy, that case was held to be inapplicable.

The lower court held in the alternative that even if the will had been revoked, that revocation was dependent on the 2008 will being valid. This would reinstate the will under the doctrine of dependent relative revocation, citing In re Anthony's Estate, 265 Minn. 382, 121 N.W.2d 772 (1963). But since the 2006 will was never revoked, the appeals court held that this doctrine was inapplicable.

For these reasons, the Court of Appeals affirmed.

No. A14-2112 (Minn. Ct. App. Aug. 17, 2015).

Please see the original opinion for the court's exact language.


Richard P. Clem is an attorney and continuing legal education (CLE) provider in Minnesota. He has been in private practice in the Twin Cities for 25 years. He has a J.D., cum laude, from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul and a B.A. in History from the University of Minnesota. His reported cases include: Asociacion Nacional de Pescadores a Pequena Escala o Artesanales de Colombia v. Dow Quimica de Colombia, 988 F.2d 559, rehearing denied, 5 F.3d 530 (5th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1041 (1994); LaMott v. Apple Valley Health Care Center, 465 N.W.2d 585 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991); Abo el Ela v. State, 468 N.W.2d 580 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991).

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