The Importance of Naming the Correct Defendant in Virginia

            The failure to name the correct defendants of an estate can doom your claim, the case of Ray v. Ready is an example of that. 

Facts

            Mr. Ready died and his will excluded his wife, Mrs. Ray, as a beneficiary so she filed suit. However, this suit only named Mr. Ready’s estate as the defendant, not his administrator, Katherine Ready. Ready’s counsel discovered the error and contacted Ray’s counsel about an amendment, but nothing was done. Then, six days before the hearing the statute of limitations on Ray’s claim expired. At trial, Ready’s attorney moved to have the action dismissed for failure to name the correct parties and pointed out the fact the pleadings could not be amended due to the statute of limitations expiring. In response, Ray argued that Katherine’s being named in the summons and answering the complaint on the estate’s behalf were enough to add her as a party. The court disagreed with Ray and nullified the action. 

The Appeal

The appeals court affirmed the trial court decision. The appeals court cited the controlling law which said, “the party filing a civil action has the fundamental obligation to express the nature of the claim being asserted, and the identity of the party against whom it is asserted.” James v. Peyton, 277 Va. 443 (2009). The court also stated that “actions must be between and by living parties either in an individual or representative capacity.” The court then cited Virginia Code § 8.01-6.3 which controls when there are errors in naming fiduciaries in lawsuits. Ray did not comply with the code section because she did not name Katherine as a defendant or refer to her in the body of the complaint. Therefore, a new action could not be filed, as the statute of limitations had run. 

Importance of an Excellent Lawyer

The skilled lawyers at Smith Strong will carefully draft every pleading so as to make sure your estate litigation will not be hampered by a technicality. If you are in need of a lawyer for estate litigation, or if you have any other family law or estate related needs, or would like to attend one of our free seminars please call Smith Strong today at (804) 325-1245 or (757) 941-4298.

Editorial Assistance By: Michael Gee – Law Clerk

H. Van Smith
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Trusted Virginia Family Law Attorney Serving Richmond to Williamsburg