|Santa Clara County Superior Court|
The late Ethel Josephine Hinz penned a will entirely in her own handwriting. The holographic will read, in its entirety, as follows:
"I, Ethel Josephine Hinz; aka as E.J. Hinz; declare that this will, is my only and last testament.
"I, name my son, Lester F. Hinz, Jr., as sole heir and executor to manage estate affairs.
"In the event of any challenges to said estate, I hereby authorize said Executor to dispense the amount of $1.00, one dollar, to any claimant.
"I am confident that my son, as Executor, will also subscribe to my wishes, along lines that were discussed previously and privately in the past. A simple cremation, without ceremony is the wish of Ethel J. Hinz."
Since the value of the estate exceeded $10M, there were naturally interested parties in this matter. These parties included Lester's wife and two grandchildren of Ms. Hinz (Lester passed away after his mother). The three of them composed the heirs of Ms. Hinz's estate.
The crux here revolved around the phrase "I, name my son, Lester F. Hinz, Jr., as sole heir and executor to manage estate affairs." The trial court invalidated the will as it found that extrinsic evidence could not resolve the ambiguities regarding the aforementioned phrase. The will was found to be ambiguous because it was not clear if Ms. Hinz intended for Lester to be the sole beneficiary or was acknowledging that Lester was her sole child. Due to extrinsic evidence not yielding a clear answer of what Ms. Hinz meant, the trial court invalidated the will. Therefore, Ms. Hinz's estate passed by intestate succession to her heirs, i.e. Lester's wife and her Ms. Hinz's two grandchildren. However, Lester's wife appealed the decision to the 6th District Court of Appeal. On appeal, the trial court's decision was reversed.
The majority opinion found that the will was unambiguous, i.e. the only interpretation of the word "heir" as used in the will was "beneficiary." Therefore, the Court of Appeal found the will to be valid and instructed the trial court to award 100% of Ms. Hinz's estate to Lester's wife.
For reference, if you use a $10M valuation figure, the trial court would've awarded the estate as follows:
1. Lester's wife - $5M
2. Ms. Hinz's grandchild - $2.5M
3. Ms. Hinz's grandchild - $2.5M
Following the appellate court's ruling, the distribution would go
1. Lester's wife - $10M
2. Ms. Hinz's grandchild - $0
3. Ms. Hinz's grandchild - $0
Kind of a big difference.
Granted, Ms. Hinz's grandchild can always appeal this decision to the CA Supreme Court or petition for a re-hearing.