The Texas Case of the Film Noir Actress
Film Noir Movies
Film Noir movies may sound like a strange topic for a legal blog. However, when you realize everybody dies and family members will fight for love and money, estate planning issues touch everyone. Even Hollywood actresses in a San Antonio, Texas court. I would like to tell you about how a Hollywood actress was denied half her fiancé's property because of pen and ink changes adding her to the will.
I am a fan of film noir movies. Those are the black and white crime movies from the 1940’s and 1950's that are known for their pessimism, cynical heroes, frequent use of flashbacks, and intricate plots. Famous film noir movies you may recognize include The Maltese Falcon, Double Indemnity, Dead Reckoning and Sunset Boulevard. If you don't know the movies, then you will recognize the actors and actresses like Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, James Cagney, Veronica Lake and Lizabeth Scott. Lizabeth Scott was known for her "smoky voice" and as the most beautiful face of the film noir period. To me she looks a lot like Lauren Bacall.
Lizabeth Scott Case
I have a habit of Googling actors and actresses as I watch movies. On Memorial Day weekend, I was watching Dead Reckoning starring Humphrey Bogart and Lizabeth Scott. As I was reading Lizabeth Scott's bio, I learned she was involved in an estate planning lawsuit, in no other place but San Antonio, Texas. The case is Scott v. Schwartz, 469 S.W.2d 587 (San Antonio 1971). I believe the story is not only interesting, but is very fitting for a legal blog.
Death Before the Wedding
In May 1969 Lizabeth Scott had been engaged for 2 years to an oil executive named William Dugger, Jr. of San Antonio. A musician who was helping her decorate her Los Angeles mansion had introduced them. Both Lizabeth and William were in their late 40’s. Unfortunately, before the wedding William suddenly died in August 1969.
Amending Typed Wills
William did have a will. On August 21, 1964, William signed a typed will that had been attested to by two witnesses as required by Texas Probate Code. The will left all his property to his sister Sarah. However, approximately one year before his death, William made some pen and ink changes to his will.
These are the changes he made: After his sister’s name he wrote in “and Lizabeth Scott my fiancée” and crossed out the words “to her” and in his own handwriting he added the words “in equal shares.” After these changes it read, “I give, will, devise and bequeath to my sister Sarah Dugger Schwartz and Lizabeth Scott my fiancée all the property of every descriptions that I own at the time of my death, leaving the same in equal shares absolutely and in fee simple.” William initialed the change and had one witness sign their name by the changes. These changes were referred to as a holographic codicil.
The Court Ruling
In September 1969, the Probate Court of Bexar County Texas admitted William’s will to probate and found the holographic codicil invalid. This meant Sarah would receive all of William's property. Lizabeth appealed the decision to the District Court. The District Court upheld the trial court’s ruling and found that the words in William's handwriting were not self-contained and were meaningless by themselves. The words “and Lizabeth Scott my fiancée to her in equal shares” were meaningless.
What can be learned from this case is that you should be very careful when making pen and ink changes to your typed will. I do not personally recommend it. Handwritten wills (holographic wills) and codicils are valid in Texas and can amend typed wills; however, the words you add must make sense by themselves. Unfortunately, for Lizabeth Scott and William Dugger, they did not.
If you need a will or need to make changes to your will because of a life change, such as marriage, divorce, birth of a child or death of a loved one, contact the Law Office of Hugh Spires, Jr. so we can tailor a will just for you. You can also reach us at www.TexasWillsLawyer.com.