Tuesday, March 12, 2013

In re Estate of Wright case brief

In re Estate of Wright case brief summary
7 Cal. 2d 348

SYNOPSIS: Appellant executrix sought to overturn the order of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County (California), which, at the request of respondent daughter, denied admission of a will to probate.

OVERVIEW: The testator was 69 years old and eccentric at the time he died. He kept junk and old liquor bottles hidden around his house. His will devised a house to a woman friend and another house to his daughter, who contested the will. The drawer of the will and three witnesses all testified that they thought that the testator was of unsound mind based upon minor idiosyncrasies. There was no medical proof of incapacity and no proof that the testator could not conduct his business. The trial court refused to admit the testator's will to probate.

The court reversed the decision and held that because there was no proof that the testator was insane or suffered from delusions, there was no proof of testamentary incapacity. The court ruled that testamentary capacity could not be destroyed by showing foibles or isolated mental irregularities unless they directly bore on and influenced the testamentary act.

OUTCOME: The court reversed the judgment and order of the trial court, which denied the executrix's request for the admission of the testator's will to probate at the request of the daughter. 

In re Estate of Wright (Cal. 1936) [20 CB 141]: Testator executed will and upon death, it was sought to be probated.  Drawer of the will plus the two subscribing witnesses testify that at execution time, testator lacked mental capacity.  Rule: At time of will’s execution the drawer and witnesses attested that testator had mental capacity to make a will and they are bound by this.  Isolated acts testified to by the witnesses don’t defeat the presumption of sanity; there must be evidence of a medical condition and the effect that it had on him physically or mentally.
i.    Bad case for challenge b/c why did they attest if they thought him incompetent, particularly since the witnesses didn’t come forward until the will contest
ii.   Challenge by daughter b/c she is dissatisfied w/distribution is not sufficient – the testator otherwise met all the requirements of mental capacity and so will controls
iii.  Presumption of will properly executed is sanity and the burden is on the contestant to show that the testator lacked mental capacity

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