Estate of Hafner

Decision Date27 August 1986
Citation229 Cal.Rptr. 676,184 Cal.App.3d 1371
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
PartiesESTATE OF Charles J. HAFNER, Deceased. Helen L. HAFNER, Petitioner and Respondent, v. Joan HAFNER, et al., and Kimberly Hafner, Claimants and Appellants. B005226.
Fine, Perzik & Friedman, Los Angeles, and Douglas C. Miller, Manhattan Beach, for claimants and appellants

Lloyd A. Bulloch, Downey, for petitioner and respondent Helen L. Hafner, and for claimant and appellant Kimberly Hafner.

DANIELSON, Associate Justice.

The principle issue presented by this case is: as between the surviving, innocent, wife and children of a bigamous husband, and his surviving, innocent, putative spouse 1 and their child, who is entitled to succeed to the husband's intestate estate when that estate is, as to his surviving wife and children, the husband's separate property and is, as to the putative spouse, quasi-marital property?

We hold that, as separate property, one-half of the estate goes to the surviving wife and four children of the decedent for distribution pursuant to former section 221 of the Probate Code (hereafter section 221) and the other one-half goes to the surviving

putative spouse as quasi-marital property pursuant to Civil Code section 4452 and former section 201 of the Probate Code (hereafter section 201). 2

FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEEDINGS BELOW 3

Joan Hafner (Joan) and the decedent Charles J. Hafner (Charles) were married on June 12, 1954, in the State of New York; it was the first marriage for each of them. Following their marriage they took up residence in College Point, New York. Joan has continued to live in or near College Point ever since. The marriage between Joan and Charles produced three daughters, all of whom are now living: Catherine Kotsay, born December 25, 1955; Lillian Mayorga, born November 18, 1956; and Dorothy Hafner, born November 16, 1957. 4

In February or March of 1956 Joan learned that she was pregnant with her second child and told Charles. In April or May of 1956 Charles left Joan, without prior notice and without letting her know where he would be. At that time their first child, Catherine, was sick and Joan moved back to her parents, who supported her; she received no support from Charles.

Joan and Charles were reunited briefly in early 1957. Charles left Joan for the last time in February 1957. Joan, then pregnant with their third child, encountered Charles on the street in New York in May 1957. He told her, "I hear you are going to have another baby", and asked her whether she would like to go to California. Joan replied, "What guarantees would I have that you won't leave me pregnant again?" Charles replied, "There's no guarantees."

In 1956 and 1958, Joan filed support proceedings against Charles in the New York family court. In 1956, she obtained a $12 per week child support order and in 1958 she obtained a similar order for $20 per week. Charles made four support payments in 1958 but never made any other payments. In 1958, Joan consulted an attorney in New York on the support matters, but, because of the expense required to locate Charles in California, she did not pursue the matter. In 1961, Joan abandoned any further efforts to obtain support warrants in the New York family court because such efforts caused her to lose time on her job.

Joan last saw Charles in the New York family court in 1958 when he was brought before the court on a support warrant. Shortly after that appearance, an acquaintance told Joan that Charles had gone to California. From 1958 until his death in 1982, Joan and Charles never saw or communicated with each other again. Joan knew that Charles was in California but did not know where in California.

Beginning in 1961, and continuously thereafter, Joan considered her marriage to Charles for all practicable purposes to have ended and that they would never reconcile or even see each other again.

Except for short intervals to have their babies, Joan was employed at all times following her marriage to Charles, and was so employed at the time of the trial below. She reared the three daughters of herself and decedent.

In August, 1953, shortly after graduating from high school, Joan commenced working at a magazine company and continued until August, 1955, when she left because she was pregnant with her first daughter. In April, 1957, she went to work on the assembly line of a rubber company Joan never sought a divorce from Charles; it is unclear whether she did not seek a divorce because of religious convictions, the lack of financial resources, or a lack of interest. At no time from their marriage in 1954 until his death on December 25, 1982, did Charles ever file proceedings to dissolve his marriage to Joan. Their marriage was still in full force and effect at the time of Charles' death.

on a machine putting snaps on baby pants. Except for a three-month lay-off to have her third baby she stayed on that machine for about 12 years, when the company moved away. She started at the minimum wage and later became a piece worker. After two weeks of unemployment she went to work for a glove manufacturing company, starting as an order picker, filling orders, and later as a stock supervisor, making sure that the orders were picked and sent out. She was still so employed at the time of the trial of the within action and had then been working at the glove factory for 14 and a half years.

Respondent Helen L. Hafner (Helen) met Charles in 1962 when he was a patron at a beer bar where she was working as a barmaid. Helen had separated from her second husband, Eldon Pomeroy, in November, 1961.

Charles told Helen that he had divorced his wife, Joan, in New York on charges of adultery, that he had three children of that marriage with Joan, and that he had given up an interest in a house in lieu of child support. Charles further stated that the divorce records had been destroyed in a fire in New York. Helen, in good faith, relied on these representations and believed them to be true continuously thereafter; she had no actual knowledge or reasonable grounds to believe otherwise.

In July 1962, Helen and Charles went to Tijuana, Mexico, to enable Helen to obtain a divorce from Pomeroy and to participate in a marriage ceremony with Charles. Both of those objectives were accomplished. Helen, in good faith, believed that both the divorce and marriage were valid. Following their return from Tijuana in 1962, Helen and Charles lived as husband and wife.

Helen's second husband, Pomeroy, was killed in an accident on June 21, 1963. In June 1963, Helen consulted an attorney and was advised that her Mexican divorce from Pomeroy was invalid in California. Following Pomeroy's death Helen and Charles went to Las Vegas, Nevada, and participated in a marriage ceremony. After that marriage ceremony, on October 14, 1963, Helen and Charles returned to the Los Angeles area where they lived and held themselves out as husband and wife until Charles' death. They had one child, Kimberly Hafner, born December 10, 1964. 5

On September 27, 1973, Charles was seriously injured in an automobile accident which left him with permanent physical disabilities and brain damage that rendered him incapable of employment. 6 During the nine months in the hospital and his subsequent recovery period, Helen faithfully attended to his needs as his wife and continued to do so for some nine years until his death.

Charles and Helen accumulated approximately $69,000 in hospital and doctor bills as a result of the accident. Those bills were not paid until Charles' personal injury action was settled for $900,000, in 1975, which netted decedent $600,000 after attorney's fees. Helen and her attorney, Charles Weldon, were appointed as Charles' co-conservators in 1975. The personal injury settlement was placed in conservatorship accounts and administered under court supervision. The conservatorship assets were subsequently transferred to Charles' probate administrator following Charles' death.

Charles Hafner died intestate on December 25, 1982, leaving an estate appraised at $416,472.40; his entire probate estate consists of the remainder of the proceeds of his personal injury settlement.

Joan apparently learned of Charles' personal injury in 1974; she was not able financially to visit him following his accident. Joan learned of Charles' death a few days after Christmas, 1982; she did not attend his funeral and did not know where it was. 7

Petitions for letters of administration were filed by Helen and by Joan on January 21 and February 14, 1983, respectively. By stipulation the competing petitions were taken off calendar and a bank was appointed administrator. The bank administrator is not a party to this appeal.

Helen filed a petition for determination of entitlement to estate (former § 1080), claiming to be the surviving wife of Charles and seeking to have the probate court determine the persons entitled to share in the distribution of Charles' estate.

Appellants (Joan and the three daughters) filed a response to the petition and a statement of interest, asserting their respective claims to a share of Charles' estate, as his surviving spouse and children, pursuant to section 221. 8

Kimberly Hafner, a child of Charles, also filed a statement of interest in the estate.

Appellants claimed that they, together with Kimberly, should succeed to Charles' entire estate under section 221, and that even if Helen were found to be a good faith putative spouse the court should, under equitable principles, divide the estate among them.

Pursuant to stipulations without prejudice by Joan and Helen, acting through their attorneys and filed in the cause, Helen was awarded a family allowance of $1,800 per month from and after the date of Charles' death. Later, and commencing November 1, 1983, a family allowance of $1,800 per month was...

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