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May 25, 1971

In re ESTATE of Francesca HALL, Deceased

John H. Pratt, District Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: PRATT

JOHN H. PRATT, District Judge

 After extensive discovery, respondents filed a motion for summary judgment solely on the issue of whether the writing could be admitted to probate as a valid will disposing of a substantial portion of decedent's estate. *fn1" It appearing to the Court that all persons, known and unknown, who are or might be heirs at law of Francesca Hall have been made parties and/or served with process, this cause came on for hearing on February 19, 1971, on respondents' motion for summary judgment, plaintiff's opposition, supplemental memoranda, and various depositions and exhibits. For the reasons spelled out below we find there is no dispute as to any material fact necessary to disposition of this case on motion, and we grant respondents' motion for summary judgment.

 The Facts

 On November 30, 1932, Francesca Ross Hall made a paper writing entitled "Last Will and Testament" handwritten by her on the front and back of a single sheet of paper. The last line on the back side is an incomplete sentence reading, "All personal effects to be left to * * *" Although the writing is not signed by Francesca at the bottom of the back side, her name does appear in her own writing in the body of the document, at the top of the first page: "I, Francesca Ross Hall, * * *" The signatures of two witnesses, Robert C. Cousins, Sr. and Henrietta C. Lockner, also appear at the top of the first page. According to the testimony of Cousins in his deposition, he being the only surviving witness, decedent wrote another two pages after the page which is still extant. According to Cousins' "best recollection," decedent signed the last page at the bottom and then had Cousins attest the paper as a witness. Cousins declined to read any part of the document.

 Although the authenticity of all signatures on the paper before us is uncontroverted, Cousins testified that neither he nor Lockner, the other witness, was present at the time the other one signed. Moreover, Cousins was not present at the time the first page was written and did not see decedent sign her name on it. According to Cousins' reconstruction of the events of that day in 1932, Lockner could not have been present when any part of the document was written, nor could she have witnessed decedent's signing the missing pages of the purported will.

 It is not known, nor at this time is it possible to discover, what sort of disposition of other property was made in those missing pages, for at some time during the intervening years they were detached and destroyed. It is impossible to determine who detached the missing pages, or when they were removed, for the chain of custody of the document is not known. Bank officials feel that Riggs came into possession of the paper sometime in the early 1940's, before decedent's mother herself was committed to a mental institution, and that it is probable that the mother had control of the document before then.

 The writing was discovered in an unsealed envelope in a safety deposit box in the Riggs bank. Expert ultraviolet analysis obtained by plaintiff indicates that the envelope and letter were from matched stationery. That analysis also shows, from crease lines and type of pen and ink used, that the line "All personal effects to be left to * * *" was written contemporaneously with the rest of the document, even though at first glance it appears to have been squeezed in at the bottom. According to this expert, the envelope had never been sealed.

 The Court thus is presented with an incomplete document which does not effect a total disposition of all of decedent's estate. Respondents contend that because the will is holographic, and not only is incomplete but also not properly signed or attested, the normal presumption of regularity is not operable, and that plaintiff, who has the burden of proof on the issue of its admissibility to probate, cannot sustain this burden on this or on any conceivable record which might be developed. Respondents urge that the writing in question is not a valid will entitled to be received in probate, specifically challenging probate of the document on three grounds: (1) decedent's name, which appears only in the first line of the text of the writing, while it identifies Miss Hall, is not a valid testamentary signature under District of Columbia law; (2) said writing is not a complete statement of decedent's final intentions; and (3) Mrs. Lockner's signature as an attesting witness was not duly subscribed according to statute. We will discuss each of these contentions.


 The District has no special statute dealing with holographic wills. Section 103 of Title 18 of the Code sets forth the general requirements for execution of any valid will. That section provides that:

A will or testament other than a will executed in the manner provided by 18-107 [noncupative wills], is void unless it is:
(1) in writing and signed by the testator, or by another person in his presence and by his ...

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