Unsigned Will Leads to Lawsuit against Father’s Company

The sons of a late North Carolina real estate developer are suing their father’s company in an attempt to recover nearly $200 million in assets that he was trying to redirect shortly before his death. Henry Faison had tried updating his will to leave a large portion of his estate to a charitable trust that was named after his dog as opposed to his real estate firm. However, Faison was unable to officially sign the legal document before suddenly passing away. Subsequently, evidence in the form of emails and memos has surfaced showing his intention to leave this large portion to a charitable trust rather than the company.

The main issue is obviously that the will was not signed by Faison or witnessed by two witnesses, two requirements to make a valid will. Due to the unusual nature of the case, the suit is largely in uncharted legal waters. There are not any cases that have handled this type of issue or had this type of magnitude.

The lawsuit alleges that both Faison and company officials had agreed to the change of his estate plan prior to his sudden death because the company would be receiving life insurance and a number of other benefits under such agreement. The sons are asserting that the court should make the company uphold its end of the deal.

Faison had drafted a will in June of 2000 leaving the residuary of his estate to his company. However, in 2012 Faison changed his mind deciding to leave a large portion of his estate, including nearly $100 million in loans that the company allegedly owed to him, to a charitable trust named after his dog that he had planned to create. In doing so, the change would prevent having to pay $110 million in federal estate taxes while also being able to support certain political causes. However, Faison’s death came just before he was able to sign the will or create the charitable trust

Now Faison’s sons who are acting as administrators of the estate are requesting that the court finish creating the charitable trust and force the company to give up the assets.  In the lawsuit, the sons are asserting that the company would be unjustly enriched if they were allowed to take the entire amount of the estate.   The company does not disagree that Faison was planning on changing his estate plan. Rather, the company alleges that Faison did not finish the process, and thus the will from 2000 would be considered his current estate plan.

Obviously, this case could have a lasting impression on other cases down the road that may also deal with unfinished estate planning or unsigned wills. It will be interesting to see how the court handles the issue of his planning versus the issue of not actually signing the document. This case also illustrates the importance of actually carrying out your estate plan.

If you need help finalizing or creating your estate plan, be sure to contact a Tennessee estate planning attorney. At The Higgins Firm, we would be happy to answer any questions that you may have related to preparing your estate plan.