May 21, 2015

Revoking an Old Will or Trust

When a person executes a subsequent testamentary document, it is prudent to clearly revoke the old document or ensure that the old one is destroyed. This applies to either a trust or will. Although the cases I've seen typically involve a will. Otherwise a legal quagmire can arise later on that is both very costly (attorneys are not cheap) and very time-consuming (the legal process is not a sprint). The following is an example of such a legal quandary. Sanchez v. Darnell, Los Angeles County Superior Court Case # KP013821. According to the unpublished appellate opinion involving this case:

"At Decedent's residence, five of the sisters went through documents Decedent left in a safe, and discovered a holographic will dated June 15, 1998, and a statutory will dated June 16, 1998. Both wills named Sanchez as the executor and her children as the contingent executors. The holographic will did not dispose of Decedent's property, but the statutory will devised Decedent's entire estate to Sanchez. Sanchez petitioned to probate the 1998 wills.

One of the sisters also discovered a January 2009 holographic will at Decedent's residence. Chacon read the 2009 will aloud to the sisters, who also examined it. The will was later viewed by one of Decedent's nephews and his wife. Although the 2009 will also named Sanchez as executor, its terms were markedly different than the 1998 wills. The 2009 will instructed that the estate be divided equally among all of the siblings. Subsequently, the 2009 will could not be found. Darnell petitioned for the 2009 will to be admitted to probate. Contrary to the assertions of her siblings at trial, Sanchez denied the existence of the 2009 holographic will and testified that the document they examined was a jewelry list and not a will."

Obviously it was not the best result to have 3 wills floating around when the decedent passed away. In particular, when an old and new will materially conflict, this provides a huge incentive for a beneficiary to litigate the matter. That is, the beneficiary has a financial motivation to seek admission of the will that benefits them the most. Shocking, I know. Here, the child who was the sole beneficiary of the old will naturally wanted to see that will admitted to probate. Simultaneously, such beneficiary also naturally wanted to see the new will, which significantly reduced her inheritance, not be admitted to probate. Conversely, the other children had the exact opposite intent. 

Given these polar opposites, it should come as no surprise that the case has dragged on for so long. The decedent passed away in 2009 and this matter remains unresolved as of May 2015.