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Recent Cases

Estate of Fred Morris, Alameda County Superior Court

This case was tried before the Honorable Yolanda N. Northridge. Matthew Toth of Pedder, Hesseltine, Walker & Toth, LLP, represented the Contestant. Michael Dougherty of Oakland represented the Respondent.

This was a Will contest case, wherein the Decedent wrote a Will with the aid of his attorney in 1997, leaving his entire estate to one of his five children. Then in 1998 the Decedent contacted his attorney and had his attorney write a new Will splitting his estate between the one son and his girlfriend and destroyed the valid 1997 Will. However, for some reason, the Decedent did not go to the attorney’s office to execute the 1998 Will, but instead mailed it to him. The Decedent failed to have the ’98 Will properly witnessed. Then in 1999 the Decedent once again contacted his attorney to change his Will again, this time removing the girlfriend and replacing her with Contestant (another son). Again the Decedent did not go to the attorney’s office and only had the attorney advise him on how to make the change by letter, which the Decedent did do on the ’98 Will reflecting his final wishes. This was the last time the Decedent had contact with his attorney.

The deciding issue on the case was does the doctrine of Dependent Relative Revocation apply to revive the ’97 Will. Judge Northridge held the doctrine did not apply, as the “Wills” were substantially different enough that the doctrine did not apply and that the Decedent’s estate was to pass by intestate succession, in favor of the Pedder firm’s client.

Robinson v. Robinson

This case was tried before the Honorable Nancy Davis Stark. Stan Pedder of Pedder, Hesseltine, Walker & Toth, LLP, represented Respondent Scott Robinson. Oakland’s Larry E. Lulofs and Herman A. Trutner represented Petitioner Brian Robinson.

In August 2004, an 84-year old blind woman who was in poor health and resided in a care facility, executed a Will leaving her estate equally to her four sons. In 2006, still in very poor health, she executed a new Will, eliminating one of her sons. The attorney who prepared the original Will had retired. The second Will was actually prepared by one of her sons (you guessed it, not by the one who was eliminated.) At any rate, mom passed away in 2006. The “eliminated” son contested the Will, arguing that mom was incompetent at the time of execution of the second Will, and was under the influence of the son who prepared and arranged for the execution of the second Will.

Under the circumstances, there was a legal presumption that the second Will was invalid. After four days of trial, the new Will (second) was determined to be valid, in favor of the Pedder firm’s client.

Estate of Irene O. Sparkman, Alameda Superior Court

This case was tried before the Honorable David Lee. Stanley Pedder of Pedder, Hesseltine, Walker & Toth, LLP, tried this out-of-county (Alameda) case.

Sparkman died, leaving a copy of a formal Will with her original signature but unwitnessed. She left the bulk of her estate ($1.3 Million) to her granddaughters. Her daughter filed for Letters of Administration, claiming there was no Will, and therefore she should take the entire estate.

The whole family then got together in an attempt to settle. A settlement was reached, then repudiated by (you guessed it) the daughter. At trial, the court ordered the settlement agreement enforced which was favorable to the Pedder firm’s client.

One interesting note: At trial, a nephew testified that the daughter (yes, the same one) had given him the keys to Sparkman’s home and safe and that he had found a Will signed by Sparkman and two witnesses. He was told to destroy the Will and did.

In the Matter of the Cherida Jackson Trust, Los Angeles County Superior Court

Stan Pedder and Tim Walker of Pedder, Hesseltine, Walker & Toth, LLP, represented the Plaintiff. The Defendant, Children’s Hospital, was represented by Robert Rosenberg of Oakland.

In a bit of convoluted factual history, Baby Love was born severely handicapped, allegedly by the negligence of hospital “x.” (Hospital x was unrelated to the Defendant Children’s Hospital in this case.) The parents were unable to care for the baby, so the baby was placed in foster care. On behalf of Baby Love, an action was brought against hospital x. A substantial judgment was obtained for Baby Love. In 1989, an Alameda County court placed the recovered funds in a special needs trust, with the proviso that any balance of funds left in the trust at the death of Baby Love would to go Children’s Hospital (again unrelated to hospital x.) When Baby Love was 19 years of age, “P” adopted Love. Love then died at the age of 23, with a substantial amount of money still remaining in the trust. Defendant Children’s Hospital requested the remaining funds. “P” objected.

In a decision in the Los Angeles probate court, “P” prevailed and received all the remaining funds. The 19-year old decision of the Alameda County court was overruled. The decision was based on Sisco v. Cosgrove and California Probate Code §6100. The Los Angeles court held that a minor cannot make a Will, and the Alameda County court had no authority to create or authorize the creation of such a Will for a minor. Since “P” (the Pedder firm’s client) was the parent by reason of adoption, she took the assets remaining in the estate using the laws of intestate succession.