Martina v. Elrod

Decision Date09 September 2013
Docket NumberNo. S13A0907.,S13A0907.
Citation293 Ga. 538,748 S.E.2d 412
PartiesMARTINA et al. v. ELROD.
CourtGeorgia Supreme Court


Ken W. Smith, Hazlehurst, for appellant.

Hugh Brown McNatt, Hugh Peterson, III, McNatt, Greene & Peterson, Vidalia, Robert Sheffield Thompson, Hawkins Parnell Thackston & Young, LLP, Atlanta, for appellee.

HUNSTEIN, Justice.

In this will contest case, we granted an application for interlocutory appeal filed by the caveators below to determine the validity of the self-proving affidavit attached to the testator's will. Having determined that the affidavit does not substantially comply with the requirements of a self-proving affidavit under OCGA § 53–4–24, we reverse the superior court's conclusion to the contrary. We affirm the remainder of the superior court's order.

Dan Berlin Elrod (“Testator”) died leaving a Last Will and Testament executed on December 17, 1998. In the will, Testator left his estate to his putative wife, Appellee Jacquelyn Jones Elrod (“Elrod”), and her heirs, expressly excluding his five children from a previous marriage. After Elrod, as executrix, petitioned to probate the will, the five children (“Caveators”) challenged its validity on grounds of undue influence. After a hearing, the probate court denied probate, finding that the will's self-proving affidavit was insufficient.

On appeal to superior court, the parties consented to submit for the court's resolution two preliminary issues: (1) the sufficiency of the self-proving affidavit; and (2) the validity of the marriage between Elrod and Testator. The superior court concluded that the self-proving affidavit was in substantial compliance with the applicable statutory requirements and that, therefore, the will should be admitted for probate as a self-proved will. The court concluded further that there was a question of fact, to be resolved at trial, regarding the validity of Testator's marriage to Elrod. We granted Caveators' interlocutory application to examine the first of these two determinations.

1. A will that is “self-proved” may be admitted for probate without the testimony of the attesting witnesses. OCGA § 53–4–24(c). Such a will is rebuttably presumed to have been executed with the requisite testamentary formalities. Auito v. Auito, 288 Ga. 443, 443, 704 S.E.2d 789 (2011). To be self-proved, a will must have annexed to it an affidavit, sworn by the testator and attesting witnesses before a notary public, affirming that the will has been properly executed. OCGA § 53–4–24(b); Duncan v. Moore, 275 Ga. 656(1), 571 S.E.2d 771 (2002). A valid self-proving affidavit must have form and content substantially similar to that of the statutory template. See OCGA § 53–4–24(b). Among other things, this template “provides the facts to which the affiant testator and affiant witnesses must swear.” Auito, 288 Ga. at 443, 704 S.E.2d 789.

Comparing the affidavit annexed to Testator's will with the statutory template, it is apparent that several substantive elements are missing from the affidavit here. Specifically, the affidavit lacks an affirmation by the...

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    • May 5, 2014 been, it would be “rebuttably presumed to have been executed with the requisite testamentary formalities. [Cit.]” Martina v. Elrod, 293 Ga. 538(1), 748 S.E.2d 412 (2013). Even if not self-proved, under OCGA § 53–5–21,5 “ [a] will may be proved in solemn form after due notice, upon the te......
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