Recent Case Alert

Estate of Duke

Filed July 27, 2015, California Supreme Court

Cite as S199435

Testator's holographic will provided that his wife would receive his estate, but if he and his wife died simultaneously, charities would receive his estate. The will did not provide for disposition of the estate if wife predeceased testator – which is exactly what occurred. The charities claimed they should receive the estate because testator provided for them if his wife was deceased at the time of his death. Testator's nephews claimed that the will failed, and they were entitled to receive the estate as testator’s intestate heirs. The probate court granted the nephews’ motion for summary judgment, finding that the will was unambiguous, and declined to consider extrinsic evidence of testator’s intent. The appellate court affirmed, based on Estate of Barnes (1965) 63 Cal.2d 580. The California Supreme Court reversed, and abrogated the Barnes rule that extrinsic evidence may never be introduced to reform an unambiguous will. Extrinsic evidence may be introduced to reform an unambiguous will if clear and convincing evidence establishes an error in the expression of the testator’s intent, and also establishes the testator's true intent, at the time the will was drafted.

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