Appellate Court Enforces Codicil Written in Decedent’s Blood

In the Matter of the Will of Bradway, No. A-4535-16T3, 2018 WL 3097060 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. June 25, 2018).

The decedent, Will Bradway, was in a long-term relationship with his life partner, Marc Coleman. They filed documents in Philadelphia to recognize their relationship as life partners.

In 2001, Bradway executed a traditional will, naming Coleman as his primary beneficiary and executor.

Bradway and Coleman ended their relationship in 2004 and thereafter had limited contact. Bradway then began a relationship with Baylock.

In 2006, the same day that Coleman officially terminated his life partnership with Bradway, Bradway drafted a one-page handwritten codicil to his 2001 will, naming Baylock as his primary beneficiary and executor. Bradway used his own blood as ink.

Although Bradway and Coleman had limited contact after their separation, they did have a dispute as to a bed and breakfast they operated, as a result of which a court ruled that Coleman had agreed to pay $95,500 to Bradway for his share of the business. In the codicil, Bradway provided that this debt “be in one-half measure forgiven.”

In April 2016 Bradway died unexpectedly. Id. Bradway’s estate filed an action to admit Bradway’s 2001 will and codicil to probate. Id. at *2.  Coleman contested the validity of the codicil. Id. At trial, after Coleman’s experts testified, but before he finished presenting evidence, the estate moved for a directed verdict. Coleman opposed the motion, arguing that he had additional witnesses who would testify that at the time of Bradway’s death there was no signature on the codicil. Id. He also argued that the estate had not met the burden of clear and convincing evidence under N.J.S.A. 3B:3-3.

The trial court granted the estate’s motion. It relied on N.J.S.A. 3B:3-3, reasoning that, even absent a signature, there was sufficient evidence of Bradway’s intent to alter the 2001 will. Id. at *2–3.

 The Appellate Division affirmed.  It found that, because documents under N.J.S.A. 3B:3-3 need not be signed, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by excluding Coleman’s additional witnesses, since his remaining evidence would only serve as support for what the trial court had already accepted — that Bradway’s signature was not on the codicil at the time of his death.

In affirming that the codicil met the requirements of N.J.S.A. 3B:3-3, the Appellate Division further noted that the experts agreed that the body of the codicil was in Bradway’s handwriting. Coleman even conceded on appeal that the body of the codicil was written by Bradway.  Moreover, the document referred to itself as a “codicil” and otherwise used language showing the intent to be treated as a change to the 2001 will.  The codicil contained other language that clearly and convincingly established that Bradway intended to alter his 2001 will.  Finally, the use of Bradway’s own blood in preparing the codicil was further evidence of his intent.