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3 min read

Colorado Court of Appeals Ruling Sparks Intense Will Dispute

Estate Planning Attorney | Will Dispute | Probate Lawyer

what happens when there are  two wills?

In this intriguing case, the validity of two wills and the appropriateness of a notice of lis pendens in a will contest are hotly debated. The key players in this legal battle include Jason Pierce, the personal representative of the estate, Steven G. Francis, the attorney for the respondents, and Fred Glass, the attorney in fact for Suzanne Pierce.

The dispute arose following the demise of Mary Clomer Pierce, a wealthy widow known for her philanthropy and community involvement. She left behind her elegant residence, situated on a sprawling estate, as the primary asset of her estate. The daughter of the deceased, Emily, contested both wills, asserting that her mother died without a valid will and that she was entitled to a significant portion of the estate as an intestate heir.

The first will, drafted several years before Mary's death, named her only son, John, as the sole beneficiary of the estate. However, the second will, executed just months before her passing, designated a substantial portion of the estate to be distributed to various charitable organizations, including the local animal shelter and a children's hospital. Emily believed that this second will was invalid due to her mother's alleged lack of mental capacity and the undue influence exerted by her brother, John.

Initially, the trial court dismissed the notices of lis pendens, which were filed by Emily's legal team to alert potential buyers or creditors that litigation regarding the estate was pending. The court deemed these notices as spurious liens, invoking the spurious lien statute to dismiss them. However, the Court of Appeals overturned this ruling, recognizing the importance of the notices of lis pendens in ensuring that interested parties are informed of ongoing legal proceedings.

What's the role of the probate court

The probate court, responsible for overseeing the administration of Mary's estate, faced a difficult decision. After carefully reviewing the evidence presented, the court refused to probate the second will, citing concerns over Mary's mental capacity at the time of its execution and the possible undue influence exerted by her son, John. Instead, the court admitted a copy of the first will to probate, dismissing Emily's objections, and appointed John as the personal representative of the estate.

Frustrated and determined to contest the court's decision, Emily appealed and filed a second notice of lis pendens. In response, the estate, represented by its legal team led by Steven G. Francis, filed a petition to have the notices of lis pendens removed as spurious liens. The trial court granted the estate's petition and went a step further by awarding attorney fees, costs, and statutory damages to the estate.

Emily, however, argued that the spurious lien statute did not apply to notices of lis pendens. She contended that these notices were essential in ensuring the protection of her rights and that their removal as spurious liens would be unjust. The Court of Appeals disagreed with her argument, ruling that a notice of lis pendens can indeed be considered a spurious document if it is found to be forged, groundless, or patently invalid.

notice of lis pendens

In their analysis, the Court of Appeals clarified the purpose of a notice of lis pendens, emphasizing that it serves as an alert to third parties that litigation is pending and should not be mistaken for a lien. They further discussed the spurious lien statute, which aims to prevent the filing of frivolous or baseless claims that could harm the reputation or property interests of individuals.

Emily also raised a jurisdictional challenge, claiming that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the estate's petition. However, the Court of Appeals rejected this claim, stating that the district court possesses general jurisdiction to hear cases involving will contests and related matters.

Ultimately, the Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court correctly determined that the notices of lis pendens were not spurious and should not be removed. They also addressed the appropriateness of a notice of lis pendens in a will contest, asserting that it is suitable when the underlying claim relates to a right of possession, use, or enjoyment of real property. In this case, Emily's claims in the will contest were directly related to her perceived entitlement to a portion of the estate, making the notice of lis pendens an appropriate tool.

The Court of Appeals took issue with the trial court's conclusion that Emily's likelihood of success on appeal was too speculative to warrant a claim affecting the title to the estate property. They argued that the trial court's standard was too narrow and failed to fully consider the potential merits of Emily's claims.

the effect of an appeal

Additionally, the Court of Appeals found fault with the trial court's characterization of the first notice of lis pendens as spurious. They discussed the legal principle that a notice of lis pendens can be extended when the underlying judgment is appealed, acknowledging Emily's continuing claim to an interest in her mother's property.

The Court of Appeals also addressed the estate's argument that notices of lis pendens are not appropriate in will contests. While recognizing that this matter was