Tuesday, September 18, 2007
C.A. Takes Liberal View of Holographic Will Requirements
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A man who wrote his full name in block letters at the top of a document entitled “Last Will Etc. or What?” fulfilled the signature requirement for execution of a holographic will, the Sixth District Court of Appeal has ruled.
The justices yesterday certified for publication the Aug. 24 opinion of Justice Patricia Bamattre-Manoukian in the case of Homer Eugene Williams, whose will was admitted to probate last year over the objections of his son, Eric Williams Towle.
Towle was the first executor of his father’s estate, but Deborah Ann Cox, Williams’ stepdaughter, later petitioned to have the holographic will admitted and to be named executor as provided by the will. Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Thomas C. Edwards suspended Towle’s powers as executor and held a four-day hearing, following which he determined that the will was valid and appointed Cox as executor.
Cox testified that she found the will, handwritten on the front and back of the first page of a note pad, in Williams’ desk. The will left all of Williams “Collictables,” including two pistols and two rifles, to a nephew who was identified by name and address; declared Williams’ desire not to be kept alive by artificial means; and stated that he wanted Cox to be able to live in his home “as long as she wants before putting it up for sale.”
Cox explained that she and Williams had a close relationship, while Williams and his natural children, from his previous marriage, were “distant” and did not see each other often. The children were very young when Williams and their mother divorced, and grew up with their mother’s surname, she explained.
Williams’ son and ex-wife, however, testified that Williams loved his biological children, communicated with them often, and was present on many family occasions, although their separate schedules precluded them from visiting often. Towle questioned the way the will was written, and his counsel presented documents showing that Williams regularly signed his name in cursive.
Bamattre-Manoukian, writing for the Court of Appeal, agreed with the trial judge that the signature required to make a holographic will valid need not be placed at the end of the document. Probate Code Sec. 6111, which recognizes the validity of a holographic will “if the signature and the material provisions are in the handwriting of the testator,” applies because “the evidence on the face of the document as a whole supports a finding that the name was placed with the intent of authenticating the document,” the justice wrote.
Elaborating, the justice said the document appeared to be complete. Williams, she explained, wrote down who he wanted as his executor, what property he had and what he wanted done with it; and apparently wrote it several years earlier, leaving it in his desk drawer in case he wanted to make changes later.
That he wrote his name in block letters rather than cursive, Bamattre-Manoukian wrote, makes no difference, because the signature required to validate a holographic will need not be a “legal signature.” She noted that past cases have upheld the use of initials, a nickname, and the phrase “Your Loving Mother” as signatures.
The jurist also rejected the contention that the will was invalid because it did not dispose of all of Williams’ property. There is no such requirement with respect to holographic wills under the California case law, she said.
“Decedent specifically expressed a testamentary intent and disposed of some of his property,” she wrote. “In particular, the phrase, ‘All my collictables: everything including two pistols and two rifles, none fired: to nephew Kirk Bell . . .’ in combination with the title, ‘Last Will . . .’ indicates that the decedent had a testamentary intent.”
Justices Nathan Mihara and Wendy Clark Duffy concurred in the opinion.
The case is Estate of Williams, 030830.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company