Thursday, July 20, 2017
Jeffrey A. Dorman recently published an Article entitled, Note: Stop Frustrating the Testator's Intent: Why the Connecticut Legislature Should Adopt the Harmless Error Rule, 30 Quinn. Prob. Law Jour. 36 (2016). Provided below is an abstract of the Article:
In Connecticut, for over two hundred years, wills, their formation, and their execution have been governed by the formalities of the Wills Act. These formalities, codified in Conn. Gen. Stat. section 45a-251 (2016), outline the strict guidelines that a will must comply with in order to be considered valid. The statute requires that the document be in writing, signed by the testator, and attested by two witnesses. Connecticut courts have strictly followed this bright-line rule in the past; more recently, however, these same courts have utilized the curative doctrine of substantial compliance and have considered applying the harmless error rule to determine whether a will is valid. With the growth of services, such as LegalZoom, and the establishment of highly accessible legal kiosks, more and more testators are drafting wills without an attorney. 6 Given this increasing trend, mistakes are bound to happen, especially with will drafting and execution, and it is highly unlikely that each drafted document will follow the strict statutory formalities that the Wills Act proscribes. As more testators draft their own wills utilizing the easy and efficient do-it-yourself legal services, Connecticut courts (as well as other jurisdictions) should be wary of putting form over substance by strictly adhering to the aforementioned statutory formalities. Instead, reviewing courts should focus their concerns on whether the testator intended the document to act as his or her will.