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Estate of Wiggins

    Brief Fact Summary. A couple executed a joint will. The surviving spouse executed two codicils prior to her death adding some dispositions. It is argued that the two codicils should be found ineffective to change the dispositions agreed upon in the joint will.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. When a joint will is found to be a binding contract on the parties for the joint distribution of their assets the promises are irrevocable after the death of one of the testators.

    Facts. In 1948 Fred and Helen Wiggins executed a joint will. The will provided that the estate would pass to the survivor of the first to survive and upon the death of the survivor certain legacies would be paid out totaling $1,800 and the residue would be given to the First Baptist Church of Warsaw. Mr. Wiggins died in 1948. Before she died in 1969 Mrs. Wiggins executed two codicils changing the testamentary dispositions of her estate. The two codicils made certain bequests of specific legacies totaling $27,000. Evidence was presented to show that at the time of Mr. Wiggins death the estate was worth $60,000, however when Mrs. Wiggins died the estate’s value exceeded $200,000.

    Issue. Whether two codicils executed after the death of one party to a joint will are effective to alter the dispositions contained in the joint will?

    Held. No. Reversed. The parties entered into a binding contract for the distribution of their collective assets and this became irrevocable upon the death of the first party. The codicils are therefore ineffective.

    Dissent. The mere execution of a joint or mutual will does not by itself establish a contract prohibiting the alteration or revocation without clear and convincing evidence that such was intended. In the present case there exist no evidence of a promise binding upon after- acquired property of the surviving spouse. In addition the two codicils do not alter the specific bequests in the joint will or to enrich herself or her relatives.

    Discussion. The Court notes that even though Mrs. Wiggins was likely motivated to execute the two codicils because of the increase in the value of the estate this is a possibility that the parties should have considered at the execution of the joint will and it will not justify the altering of the fixed dispositions of the assets.


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