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In re Estate of Heibult

653 N.W.2d 101 (2002)

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In re Estate of Heibult

South Dakota Supreme Court

653 N.W.2d 101 (2002)

Facts

Anna Heibult had four children. Three children (defendants) left to live in California. Anna’s youngest child, Ronald Heibult (plaintiff), stayed to help his parents run the family farm in South Dakota. After her husband’s death, Anna had her attorney draft a will that gave a significant portion of her estate to Ronald, as well as decent portions to her other three children. Anna’s attorney kept the original of this will. A year later, during a visit to her children in California, one of Anna’s daughters and the daughter’s friend took Anna to an attorney to draft a will giving all four children equal shares of Anna’s estate. The attorney created a trust, and Anna was supposed to put her assets into the trust for distribution under the will at her death. The daughter and friend flew back to South Dakota with Anna. There, Anna pretended to put the new will in her safe-deposit box. Anna also pretended to have her assets transferred into the trust but was really getting copies of her husband’s death certificate. Afterward, Anna had a celebration with her daughter and her daughter’s friend in which she claimed to burn the original will, but she actually burned the new will. Later, Anna met with her attorney and told him about the second will and her deception. Anna asked the attorney if she needed to do anything to ensure that her first will remained in effect. The attorney assured Anna that he still had possession of the first will and that the intentional, fiery revocation of the second will was all she had needed to do. After Anna’s death, Ronald petitioned to probate the first will. The second will could not be located. The other three children petitioned to have Anna’s estate probated intestate, as if she had no operative will. Neither side disputed that Anna had a sound mind and acted of her own free will during the events involving the wills. The trial court found that the first will was valid and operative. The three children appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Gilbertson, C.J.)

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