David Horton, ‘Revoking Wills’

ABSTRACT
No issue in inheritance law has sparked as much debate as the requirements for making a valid will. For centuries, Anglo-American courts have insisted that decedents obey rigid formalities, such as signing or acknowledging their wills before two witnesses. These rituals preserve proof of the testator’s wishes, reinforce the gravity of estate planning, prevent fraud and duress, and distinguish wills from other instruments. But they also have a dark side. In scores of cases, judges have cited minor errors during the execution process to invalidate documents that a decedent intended to be effective. Accordingly, generations of scholars have critiqued will creation doctrine. Recently, these discussions have intensified, as several jurisdictions have embraced the harmless error rule, which excuses trivial departures from the execution formalities, or adopted statutes that validate electronic wills.

However, the well-canvased topic of creating a will has a little-noticed flip side. Testators do not merely need to follow formalities to make a will; rather, they also must jump through hoops to un-make a will. Since the British Parliament passed the Statute of Frauds in 1677, there have only been two ways to annul a testamentary instrument: by burning, tearing, canceling, or obliterating the document or by signing another will. In sharp contrast to the extensive commentary on executing wills, revocation doctrine has never received sustained attention. This Article fills that vacuum …

Horton, David, Revoking Wills (March 15, 2021). Notre Dame Law Review, volume 97, forthcoming 2021.

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