Where There’s a Will There’s a Way: The Estate of Field

Books and films are often feature a high stakes court battle where a fortune hangs in the balance. This morning, the Kansas Court of Appeals issued its decision in a case from Hays, Kansas, the Estate of Field.

Judge Gardner wrote for the unanimous court. Field hinges on the validity of a 2013 signed (but unwitnessed) letter that claimed to change a 2010 will of Earl Field, controlling a $20 million estate (p. 4). Would Field’s estate go mainly to Fort Hays State University for athletic and music scholarships (tax free), or be left mainly to others (triggering estate taxes)? After carefully reviewing the evidence and arguments, the Court upheld the 2010 will as valid and tossed out the alleged 2013 codicil, so the college got its scholarship money, and Field’s estate didn’t owe estate taxes (p. 30).

Field hones in on requirements for a valid Kansas will (K.S.A. 59-606). The Court found that the burden of proof should shift to the will contestant to show it was “highly probable” a will was not validly signed by the testator. Field’s accountant testified he was certain that Field wanted the money to go to the college, not to others, and that “Field would be ‘rolling over in his grave’ if he knew his estate would have to pay millions in estate tax” from the money going to others (p. 27). The Court found it “highly probable” that Field’s friend (or someone else) “signed the purported codicil instead of Field,” since the “terms of the purported codicil contradict Field’s long time estate plan” (p. 30). In fact, the Court found “no evidence” “that Field ever mentioned wanting to leave any of his estate” to the friends offering the codicil for probate (p. 30). The Court also denied the will contestant’s quest for about $1 million of attorney’s fees (pp. 30-35).

No matter if you have $20 or $20 million, your wishes need to be clear to be followed. My law firmJohnson Law KC LLC, works with clients on various estate planning and probate needs, including preparing wills or helping on will contests, to help clients take care of their legal needs quickly and inexpensively, and has years of experience counseling clients on a variety of legal issues. Call (913.707.9220) or email me (steve@johnsonlawkc.com), the KC Estate Planner, today to schedule a free, convenient consultation.

(c) 2018, Stephen M. Johnson, Esq.

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