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Release based on void will is invalid

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//February 16, 2020

Release based on void will is invalid

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//February 16, 2020

Where a jury found that the decedent’s purported will was the result of fraud and undue influence, a plaintiff’s release of claims against the estate in exchange for an early distribution is invalid.


Nell Willis reached an accord and satisfaction with Robert Machen, the executor of the estate of Wilma R. Williams, who was Willis’ aunt. In exchange for an early distribution of $30,000, Willis released her claims against the estate.

Willis became a plaintiff in a suit filed by David Williams, a beneficiary named in the will that Robert Machen offered to probate.

Wilma Williams “purportedly signed three documents, dated July 31, 2018. On August 17, 2018, seven days after her death, Defendant Robert Machen admitted to probate one of the July 31, 2018 documents and received an appointment as the Executor of the Estate of Wilma R. Williams.”

David Williams’ suit sought to impeach the will, alleging Machen obtained it by fraud and undue influence. As to Willis, defendant Machen raised, as a plea in bar, the claim of accord and satisfaction and release. The court took this under advisement pending the jury’s resolution of the impeachment issue.


“Prior to the case being presented to the jury, the parties agreed upon the order of presentation of the evidence and the burden of proof. The Court instructed the jury that Mr. Machen had the burden of proving by the greater weight of the evidence that any of the three documents was Wilma Williams’ Will. The higher standard of proof of clear and convincing remained upon David Williams and Nell Willis to prove the documents purporting to be her Will were procured by undue influence and fraud.

“At trial, the evidence failed to show by the greater weight of the evidence that the July 31, 2018 documents were properly executed as required under Va. Code § 64.2-403(A) and (C), More importantly, the evidence was overwhelming that the July 31, 2018 documents had been procured by undue influence and fraud. The jury’s verdict is wholly consistent with the findings of this Court.

“Upon the impeachment of the Will, the actions of the Executor are nullified because he lacks authority to dispose of the assets of the Estate or take any action with respect to the Estate, including obtaining releases. The release that is the subject of an accord and satisfaction defense is also unenforceable because it is the byproduct and tool of a fraudulent scheme and lacks the necessary consideration for an enforceable instrument.

“The release is lastly not a bargain this Court would approve under Va. Code § 8.01-425. Although approval of the settlement of claims is permissive, such releases procured by the executor may be set aside, if the executor ‘did not act in good faith, with ordinary prudence and with due regard for the estate’s interest.’ …

“The Court finds here that the executor essentially self-appointed himself under an impeached Will and it is in the true Estate’s interest to investigate where Wilma Williams’ personal belongings have gone— especially those items moved out to a storage facility, to consider all claims against Mr. Machen, to recover the distributions that have been made without authority and to distribute the Estate as an intestate Estate.”


“The July 31, 2018 document is not Wilma R. Williams last Will and Testament. None of the other documents are her Will. At present, Ms. Williams has left behind an Intestate Estate and consequently, the Court will enter a final Order confirming the jury’s verdict and declining to admit any of the documents to probate.”

Williams, et al. v. Machen, et al. CL-2019-02656, Dec. 16, 2019; Fairfax Cir. Ct. (Tran). Mark D. Obershain, George O. Peterson for the parties. VLW 019-8-115, 11 pp.

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