October 31, 2018

Filing a Will

It is seldom a prudent decision to delay filing a document. The law imposes a statute of limitations on parties to submit documents in a timely fashion or else their claim is time-barred. The following unpublished appellate opinion highlights what happens when a party waits too long to file: 

"Appellant Gregory Smith challenges the court's determination that his attempt to introduce a copy of a holographic will into probate of the estate of his mother, Helen Louise Smith, was untimely under Probate Code section 8226. Section 8226, subdivision (c)(1), requires the proponent of a will to petition for probate within 120 days of an order determining the decedent to be intestate. Here, Gregory filed a petition for probate of the holographic will over 11 months after the court determined Helen died intestate. Despite the late filing, Gregory appeals the court's decision that the filing of the petition was untimely even assuming Gregory was entitled to the benefit of equitable tolling to extend the statute of limitations period."

The following excerpt encapsulates Mr. Smith's problem:

"The trial court assumed that attorney Schultz's possession of the holographic will for roughly six months served as an impediment to Gregory's filing the petition for probate. The trial court even further assumed that the tolling event continued until Gregory's March 24, 2016, meeting with Lee, after he received the will back from Schultz on March 7, 2016. At that meeting, Gregory was expressly advised by the estate attorney to get his own attorney if he wished to proceed on the holographic will. Even so, over 120 days passed before Gregory filed the petition for probate. Using the latest possible date of March 24, 2016, the 120-day filing deadline expired on July 22, 2016, and Gregory filed the petition on August 3, 2016.  

At the time of the March 24, 2016, meeting, Gregory was in personal possession of the holographic will. The trial court found that Lee advised Gregory to obtain his own counsel to act should he wish to pursue his rights to admit the holographic will into probate. No impediments prevented Gregory from petitioning the court at that time. His delay of more than 120 days in filing the petition evinces a lack of diligence separate and apart from any impediment created by Schultz. Despite having possession of the holographic will and express notice from Lee that he needed to act should he wish to enter the holographic will into probate, Gregory failed to act promptly."

Estate of Smith, Tuolumne County Superior Court Case # PR11349