Mirror image nature of wills not sufficient to establish irrevocable reciprocal wills.
Arvid and Lucy Keith were married in 1972. Arvid had a son named Walter from a previous marriage. Lucy had a daughter named Venocia from a previous marriage. Arvid and Lucy executed “mirror image” wills in 1987, each leaving all of his or her assets to the surviving spouse and if none to Walter and Venocia in equal shares. In 1994, Arvid and Lucy took out a joint life insurance policy with beneficiary designations following their testamentary plans.
Arvid died in 1996. Two months after Arvid’s death, Lucy revised her will and life insurance beneficiary designation form to leave all of her assets to Venocia and nothing to Walter. Lucy died in 2006 and Walter challenged the probate of Lucy’s revised will in the Newport News Circuit Court. Walter argued that Arvid and Lucy had made irrevocable reciprocal wills in 1987 that, by contractual agreement, barred Lucy from subsequently revising her will. Walter testified regarding conversations in which Arvid told him that the wills were irrevocable reciprocal wills. The circuit court held that Walter failed to prove that the 1987 wills constituted a binding contract upon Lucy, and Walter appealed.
On appeal, the Virginia Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court on the grounds that: (1) the contractual nature of wills between two testators must be proved by clear and satisfactory evidence; (2) the evidence may be supplied by the language of the instrument, witness testimony, or implication resulting from the circumstances surrounding the execution of the wills; (3) these wills did not indicate that they were irrevocable reciprocal wills and a will does not become irrevocable simply because it is drafted to “mirror” another testator’s will; (4) the Virginia Dead Man’s Statute barred the court from issuing a judgment in favor of Walter based on his uncorroborated testimony; (5) Walter did not provide any other evidence to corroborate his testimony regarding the contractual nature of the wills; and (6) therefore, Walter failed to provide sufficient evidence to show that Lucy was contractually bound to maintain her 1987 will.