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Part II - Testator's Intent Overrides Procedural Errors in a Will

To continue our blog on the Estate of Stoker, Destiny Gularte (petitioner, appellant and the decedent's ex-girlfriend) appealed the trial court's decision revoking the 1997 trust and accepting the 2005 will for probate in its place. The appellants appealed the trial court's ruling on several points:

  1. The trial court erred by not ruling that any challenge to the validity of the trust was barred by the 120-day statute of limitations in Probate Code section 16061.8
  • The Court of Appeal disagreed with the appellants contention claiming that Danine Pradia, et al (objectors and respondents) filed a petition to probate the 2005 will within 120 days, thereby, achieving the same result as filing an action to contest the trust since the 2005 will and the 1997 trust are inconsistent. Accordingly, the trial court will have to consider the validity of the revocation of the 1997 trust.
  • Additionally, the 1997 trust has been revoked by the 2005 will and Gularte, as a successor trustee, had no authority to act under a revoked trust. The court could therefore not enforce the 1997 trust as it would have been in contravention with Steven Stoker's (decedent) intent in his 2005 will.
  1. Destiny Gularte et al claim that the will does not meet the requirements for a "formal witnessed will," since the document was not signed by two witnesses. Therefore the trial court erred by admitting it to probate.
  • The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's ruling citing Probate Code section 6110, subdivision (c)(2) which provides that, "If a will was not executed in compliance with paragraph (1), the will shall be treated as if it was executed in compliance with that paragraph if the proponent of the will establishes by clear and convincing evidence that, at the time the testator signed the will, the testator intended the will to constitute the testator's will." Here, although the 2005 will was not signed by two witnesses, two persons testified in court to verify that the will was genuine. Accordingly, the court has found that the 2005 document constituted Steven's last will.

Tune in for more on this topic on subsequent blog.

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

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