Michigan Supreme Court opinion on Charlevoix contested will case

Attorney Mark S. Papazian submitted in the Charlevoix County Probate Court the will and trust he had drafted for the decedent, Robert D. Mardigian, who was an unrelated friend.

Melissa Goldberg, Susan Lucken, and others contested the documents on the ground that Papazian had drafted them in violation of the Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct (MRPC) because they made Papazian and his children the recipients of the bulk of the decedent’s estate in
contravention of public policy and MRPC 1.8(c), which generally prohibits an attorney from preparing an instrument that gives the attorney or his or her close family a substantial gift.

The court, Frederick R. Mulhauser, J., granted partial summary disposition in favor of the challengers, and Papazian appealed, arguing that Michigan did not recognize a per se bar on testamentary gifts to unrelated attorneys and that a breach of MRPC 1.8(c) supplied a basis only for invoking the attorney disciplinary process, not for automatically voiding a trust or will.

The Court of Appeals, WILDER, P.J., and STEPHENS, J. (SERVITTO, J., dissenting), reversed, holding that, under In re Powers Estate, 375 Mich 150 (1965), the documents were not necessarily invalid, but Papazian was required to overcome a presumption of undue influence arising from the attorney-client relationship in order to enforce them. 312 Mich App 553 (2015).

The challengers applied for leave to appeal in the Supreme Court, which ordered and heard oral argument on whether to grant the application or take other peremptory action. 499 Mich 973 (2016).

The Michigan Supreme Court’s 51-page opinion is available to subscribers by logging in.

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