Matter of Estate of Standefer, 530 S.W.3d 160 (Tex. App.—Eastland 2015, no pet.).

Estate Administration

Lost Wills


The trial court admitted Testator’s will to probate although Proponent was unable to produce the original; he was only able to locate a photocopy. The appellate court affirmed.


The court began by examining the evidence presented at trial. The alleged will left Testator’s entire estate to his two sons to the exclusion of his daughter who is now claiming that Testator died intestate so she could inherit one-third of the estate. Proponent testified that Testator told him about the existence of a will and that he searched diligently for the original after Testator died. Proponent had also testified that the will was probably stored in a lockbox to which other people had access and who had even improperly removed a title to one of Testator’s cars. An employee of Testator testified that she had previously seen an envelope labeled “Last Will and Testament” in the lockbox. There was additional testimony about the drafting of the will and the contents of the will.


The court understood that a presumption exists that when the original will is last seen in the testator’s presence and cannot be found after death, that the testator destroyed the will with revocation intent. However, in the case, the evidence discussed above was sufficient to rebut the presumption by a preponderance of the evidence.


The court next addressed whether the will was properly executed. Because the will had a proper self-proving affidavit, there is a presumption of proper execution even though the affidavit is merely a photocopy. Testator signed the will with his middle and last names rather than with his first, middle, and last names as was typed on the will. The court explained that “there is no requirement that [a testator’s] signature match exactly the type-written version of his name.” Id. at *5. Other arguments about the validity of the signature (handwritten or stamped, thickness of ink was different between Testator and the witnesses, etc.) were likewise rejected.


The court also addressed the fact that the person who wrote the will for Testator was not an attorney and thus by engaging in the unauthorized practice of law, her testimony lacks credibility about what happened during the will execution ceremony. The court stated there was no authority to support this proposition.


Moral:  To avoid problems such as those in this case, a testator needs to store the original will with great care and seek the assistance of an attorney with estate planning experience to draft the will, rather than bookkeeper who then would be practicing law without a license.