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Women fail to undo their sister's deathbed "I do" (part 3)

We are continuing our discussion of a recent case from outside of Illinois that involved three sisters, Janet, Amy and Mary. While Janet was in hospice, just a couple of weeks before she died of cancer, she married Tim. They told no one. After Janet's death, though, Tim broke the news. Amy and Mary petitioned the court to annul the marriage. This is where family law and probate/estate planning law both entered the picture.

Family law reflects the values society shares regarding how people who are related should treat each other. Probate and estate planning deal more with how people should treat each other when they are incapacitated or after they are gone. Our main focus is family law, and it is important to remember that family law differs from state to state. Many states have adopted uniform laws and standards -- the best interest of the child standard, for example -- but couples are married by the state, and marriages are dissolved or invalidated by the state.

In Janet's state, the courts presume that a marriage is valid. To prove otherwise, a party must present clear and convincing evidence; the court must find it highly probable that, based on the petitioner's argument, the marriage is invalid.

In Illinois, the burden of proof is a little lower: The court must find that the marriage is invalid by a preponderance of the evidence. It must be more likely than not that an annulment is proper.

Amy and Mary claimed that Janet had been mentally incompetent at the time of the marriage and that annulment was proper because the marriage was fraudulent. The court found that Amy had undermined her own argument. Amy arranged for Janet to sign a durable power of attorney the day after the secret wedding took place. The attorney present attested that Janet was of sound mind. The sisters did not meet the clear and convincing threshold.

That wasn't all, though. We'll finish this up in our next post.

Source: Courthouse News Service, "In-Laws Can't Annul Deathbed Wedding," Jeff D. Gorman, April 27, 2012

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