California Court Discusses Testator’s Intent and Reformation of Wills

Typically, if a deceased person drafted a will prior to their death, the courts will uphold the will and disburse the person’s assets according to its terms. There are some exceptions, however, as demonstrated in a recent ruling issued by a California court in which the court found it necessary to reform the will based on extrinsic evidence that proved the testator’s intent was contrary to the provisions of the will. If you have questions pertaining to your rights with regard to a loved one’s will, it is smart to consult a California probate and trust lawyer to discuss your options for seeking your desired outcome.

Factual History

It is reported that the testator and her husband married in 1981.  In 2000, the testator executed a trust leaving a rental property to her adult sons from a previous marriage and a pour-over will in which she granted the residue of her estate to the trustee to be administered after her death. She did not advise her husband of her estate plan. The testator died in 2016, after which the defendant, one of her sons, became the trustee.

Allegedly, the defendant then filed a probate petition in which he requested that the testator’s community and separate assets be transferred to the trust, which he alleged was required by the pour-over will. The husband filed a petition seeking reformation of the will to affirm the testator’s intent to only transfer the residue of her separate property into the trust. The court granted his petition, and the defendant appealed.

Testator’s Intent and Reformation of Wills

The appellate court ruled that substantial evidence supported the trial court’s findings of the testator’s intent and the mistake in drafting the pour-over will and therefore affirmed the trial court ruling. The court explained that, under California law, an unambiguous will might be reformed to conform to a testator’s intent under certain circumstances.

Specifically, if the party seeking reformation shows via evidence that is convincing and clear, both that a will contains a mistake in the testator’s expression of intent in the time the will was drafted, and the actual specific intent of the testator at the time the will was drafted, a court may grant a request for reformation. In the subject case, the court found that the husband met his burden of proof as to both elements. As such, it denied the defendant’s appeal.

Speak to an Experienced California Probate and Trust Attorney

Wills should provide a clear picture of a deceased party’s wishes, but when they do not, their surviving loved ones may be able to request that the court reform them. If you are contending with an issue regarding a loved one’s will, it is advisable to speak to a lawyer about what relief may be available. The experienced attorneys of the Bay Area Family Law Center are skilled at handling complicated probate and trust matters, and if you hire them, they will diligently pursue the best legal result possible under the facts of your case. You can reach the Bay Area Family Law Center at 925-258-2020 or via the form online to set up a meeting.

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