Estate of Duke - Groundbreaking New Supreme Court Case On Will Disputes

In this groundbreaking California Supreme Court case on wills the Supreme Court granted review to reconsider the historical rule that extrinsic evidence is inadmissible to reform an unambiguous will.  The Supreme Court has concluded that the categorical bar on reformation of wills (dating back to common law and codified in statute by the enactment of the California Probate Code's various legal requirements) is not justified.  The Supreme Court holds that an unambiguous will may be reformed if clear and convincing evidence establishes that the will contains a mistake in the expression of the testator’s intent at the time the will was drafted and also establishes the testator’s actual specific intent at the time the will was drafted.

This landmark case will surely cause great ripples at the appellate and lower court levels throughout the State of California.  It may also potentially have an affect on how unambiguous trusts, contracts, or other testamentary documents that are disputed among beneficiaries or omitted heirs are litigated and ultimately, how they are ruled upon.