Oxford, MI asked in Probate for Michigan

Q: Live in Genesee count Michigan father in-law just passed away. Family business to be divided in half but have several

Texts over a 8 month period that shows it is not how the deceased person wanted it. Also have several witnesses to state the same. How hard to fight this?

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4 Lawyer Answers
Nina Whitehurst
Nina Whitehurst
PREMIUM
Answered
  • Probate Lawyer
  • Crossville, TN

A: Text messages do not satisfy the requirements for making a will but sometimes they can satisfy the requirements for making a contract. Have a local probate attorney review all of the facts and explain your options to you.

Kenneth V Zichi
Kenneth V Zichi
Answered
  • Estate Planning Lawyer
  • Howell, MI
  • Licensed in Michigan

A: When you say ‘to be divided’ was that pursuant to a will, intestacy, or ... ? What?

Without reviewing the WHOLE situation it is impossible to provide any advice and doing that on a public forum like this would be inappropriate.

Please consult with a local attorney who can provide real advice.

—I am licensed to practice in Michigan only and this response is provided for information only and does not constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship. Please consult with a local attorney if you have further questions.

Trent Harris
Trent Harris
Answered
  • Probate Lawyer
  • Jackson, MI
  • Licensed in Michigan

A: Actually, Ms. Whitehurst is not quite correct. A recent Michigan Court of Appeals case holds that an electronic record recorded on a person's cell phone can qualify as a person's will. See In re: Estate of Duane Francis Horton, II, decided 7/17/2018. So if a person had authored a series of texts (in my opinion they would need to be made in a series at one time, or over a relatively short period of time, that was also a coherent and clear expression of a person's intent that the series of texts serve as the person's will, there is no reason under Michigan law why text messages could not be admitted as a will.

However, in your case it sounds like there are text messages over a long time. It's unknown how many messages there were, or what the content of those messages were. Its unclear how detailed the texts were. It's unclear whether they were sporadic or consistent in frequency. It's unclear if the texts were statements of how your father in law was feeling one day, which may have changed the next day, or whether it was a consistent and considered summation, in some detail, of what your father in law wanted to happen after he dies. Finally, it's unclear if the texts were all sent to the same person, or were spread around to a number of text recipients. For this reason, we can't really say whether your father in law's texts do or don't qualify as a will, or a revocation of a will (the latter of which does not need to be made with the same formalities as a will, by the way).

So, to answer your question: How hard to fight the proposed division of your father-in-law's estate? Generally, hard, but not impossible. It depends on the specific facts and evidence you have. It depends if the text messages amounted to a revocation of the will, or a will itself, when considered in light of the witness statements you also have. Those things are something you need to talk to a lawyer in person about.

As always, you get what you pay for. Be sure to talk to a qualified attorney about your specific situation before choosing to rely on information you get from internet discussion boards such as this one.

Brent T. Geers
Brent T. Geers
Answered
  • Probate Lawyer
  • Grand Rapids, MI
  • Licensed in Michigan

A: Litigation is expensive. You might win (and with the facts as you present, I need to emphasize *might*), but end up spending more than the business is worth. The other side of probate litigation in particular is: if the judge ordered things as Dad wanted them, are people going to actually step up and run the business? If the business is going to John and Becky now, but Dad really wanted Huey, Dewey, and Louie to run it, in the heat of battle, it can be remarkably easy ask the simple question of them: do you actually want to run the business?

All that aside, if the people Dad wanted to run the business actually want to run the business, and we're talking a business worth more than the maybe 5-figures it will take to properly litigate the matter, then you should absolutely visit your local probate litigator.

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