Part II - Relationship via Marriage Exempts Prohibitions against Gifts to Caregivers

To continue our blog on Hernandez v. Kieferle, Claudine appealed the probate court's judgment invalidating the 2008 amendment and confirming the Hernandezes as Gertrude's successor trustees. Claudine claims that the court erred in applying the care custodian presumption as she falls within the exception set forth in Probate Code section 21351 as an heir of the transferor related by blood and marriage.

The Court of Appeal noted that the key issue before them was the interpretation of the term heir. Under the intestacy statute, section 6402.5 states that the children of the decedent's predeceased spouse may in some circumstances take the decedent's property. In particular, it states that if the decedent had a predeceased spouse who died not more than 15 years before the decedent and there is no surviving spouse or issue of the decedent, the portion of the decedent's estate attributable to the decedent's predeceased spouse passes to (1) the issue of the predeceased spouse, if so survived by the issue of the predeceased spouse. Since Claudine's dad (Eugene) died approximately 11 years before Gertrude, then clearly, Claudine is an heir for purposes of the "blood or marriage" exception. However, the Hernandezes argued that section 6402.5 provides for intestate distribution to the child of a deceased spouse only with respect to that portion of the decedent's estate attributable to the predeceased spouse. Accordingly, Claudine was only an heir if Gertrude's estate included real property from Eugene that would have passed to Claudine through intestate distribution. The Hernandezes further asserted that there is no evidence that Gertrude's estate included real property from Eugene.

The Court of Appeal made a deliberation and concluded that the "blood or marriage" exception includes any heirs who are capable of inheriting from a deceased person generally. A person is deemed an heir if some intestate rule identifies the person as an heir, and is therefore not dependent on the type of property included in the estate that is to be distributed under the rule. Since the probate court found that Gertrude had testamentary capacity when she executed the 2008 amendment, and that there was no evidence that Claudine tried to exert undue influence, thus the court's ruling invalidating the 2008 amendment appears unsupported. The Court of Appeal thereby reversed the probate court's ruling and directed the court to deny the Hernandezes petitions in their entirety. Claudine was awarded her costs on appeal.

*This blog entry was not written by an Attorney and should not be construed as professional legal advice.

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