By 2003, Charles Carrithers had amassed an estate worth approximately forty-five million ($45,000,000.00) dollars. Mr. Carrithers retained a Virginia attorney to prepare his last will and testament and a revocable living trust. At that time, he was survived by three sons and five grandchildren. Our firm was hired to represent two of the five grandchildren as beneficiaries of the trust. The will left all estate assets to the beneficiaries of the revocable living trust. The trust essentially divided the shares equally, one eighth (1/8) to each beneficiary. However, Mr. Carrithers limited the distribution to his sons, refusing to allow them to receive an outright distribution, but rather providing for each to receive monthly distributions of income.
In 2007, the Virginia attorney was arrested and convicted of conspiring to defraud the elderly. An FBI investigation was launched, and several boxes were confiscated from the attorney’s office.
Mr. Carrithers died in 2009. At the time, only a copy of his will could be located. The will had been executed by Mr. Carrithers, two witnesses, and a notary public. However, one of the witnesses only signed once rather than twice, and the missing witness signature became a point of contention. Hoping to avoid the restrictive provisions of the trust and to receive an outright distribution of their interest from their father’s estate (1/3 each), the three sons refused to probate a copy of the will and opened an intestate (without a will) administration of the estate. A few of the trust beneficiaries objected, and a lawsuit was filed. A time deadline was missed by another attorney representing one of the beneficiaries, and the trial court denied to admit the copy of the will. An appeal ensued, and the Supreme Court held that the copy of the will was not admissible. As a result, the intestate administration continued. Shortly after that decision, the FBI returned 25 boxes to the lawyers, and the original will for Charles Carrithers was found in these boxes. Both the trustee of the trust and our clients filed an action to admit the original will.
In addition to continuing their argument regarding the missing witness signature, the sons also argued that the Supreme Court decision concerning the copy of the will should prevent the original will from controlling the administration of Mr. Carrithers’ estate. The trial court denied the motion to dismiss the case because of the Supreme Court decision on the copy of the will, finding that the original will was a different document, and if found, could be admitted at any time following death. The court set the case on the original will for trial. Just prior to the trial beginning, the court reviewed the testimony from the witnesses to the will and the notary, and granted a final judgment in our clients’ favor, admitting the original will. The case will proceed to an appeal, but our clients were elated to know that the grandchildren’s interests in the trust were protected.