In re Estate of Williams, No. H030830.

CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals
Writing for the CourtBamattre-Manoukian
Citation155 Cal.App.4th 197,66 Cal.Rptr.3d 34
PartiesEstate of Homer Eugene WILLIAMS, Deceased. Deborah Ann Cox, as Executor, etc., Petitioner and Respondent, v. Eric Williams Towle, Objector and Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. H030830.
Decision Date24 August 2007
66 Cal.Rptr.3d 34
155 Cal.App.4th 197
Estate of Homer Eugene WILLIAMS, Deceased.
Deborah Ann Cox, as Executor, etc., Petitioner and Respondent,
v.
Eric Williams Towle, Objector and Appellant.
No. H030830.
Court of Appeal, Sixth District.
August 24, 2007.

[66 Cal.Rptr.3d 37]

Kai Henrich Wessels, San Jose, CA, for Petitioner and Respondent.

Michael Jay Jones, Gallagher, Reedy & Jones, Los Gatos, CA, for Objector and Appellant.

BAMATTRE-MANOUKIAN, Acting P.J.


In this probate case, Eric Williams Towle, the biological son of the decedent, Homer Eugene Williams, appeals from orders admitting to probate a holographic will offered by the decedent's stepdaughter, Deborah Ann Cox, and appointing Cox

66 Cal.Rptr.3d 38

executor. Appellant's principal argument is that the document is not a valid holographic will under Probate Code section 61111 because it is not signed by the decedent. Appellant also argues that the document is not a valid will because it does not completely dispose of the decedent's assets and because it lacks language demonstrating testamentary intent. Our review of the law regarding holographic wills and the evidence in this case supports the trial court's finding that the document admitted to probate is a valid holographic will. We therefore affirm the orders.

BACKGROUND

Procedural History

Homer Eugene Williams died on December 7, 2005. On February 21, 2006, his son, Eric Williams Towle (Towle), filed a petition to administer his father's estate, alleging that his father had died intestate. The petition was granted on March 22, 2006.

On May 10, 2006, the decedent's stepdaughter, Deborah Ann Cox (Cox), filed a petition for suspension of Towle's powers as personal representative of the estate. Concurrently, she filed a petition to admit a holographic will2 into probate, and a petition to be named the executor of the estate, as specified in the will. Towle objected to Cox's petition for probate of the holographic will and to her appointment as the executor of the estate.

On May 23, 2006, following a hearing on May 19, 2006, the court ordered Towle's powers as personal representative suspended, pending a decision on the purported holographic will.

A hearing was held over four days between June 12, 2006 and August 30, 2006, after which the court took the matter under submission. On the following day, August 31, 2006, by minute order, the court granted Cox's petitions and issued orders entering the holographic will into probate and naming Cox as executor of the decedent's will.

Towle filed a notice of appeal on October 17, 2006. He appeals the order admitting the holographic will to probate and the order appointing Cox as executor.3

Evidence

Cox, Towle, and Virginia Towle, the decedent's first wife, testified at the hearing. Testimony centered around the circumstances in which the will was found, the decedent's customary way of signing and completing documents, the relationship the decedent had with his children and stepchildren, and his expressions of his testamentary wishes.

After the decedent's death, Towle was unable to locate a will in the decedent's belongings and thus began probate proceedings based on the understanding that no will existed. About a week after the decedent's death, Cox found what appeared to be a holographic will in "the center drawer of [decedent's] desk" and later brought this to the attention of Towle's attorney. The desk contained other important documents such as bank statements and tax returns. The center drawer did not appear to contain any important

66 Cal.Rptr.3d 39

documents other than a checkbook.

The document found by Cox was handwritten on the front and back of the first page of a note pad. The entire text was written in block-style capital letters. The next two sheets of the note pad were blank. After the blank pages, the next page of the note pad contained what appeared to be a list of movies, in the same block printing. The remaining pages were blank.

The words "Last Will, Etc. or What? Of Homer Eugene Williams" appear at the top of the document, followed by the decedent's address. The document then names Deborah Cox and Lorna Williams as executors, states their relationships to the decedent (stepdaughter and sister-in-law respectively), and includes their addresses. It then states "Power of Attorney: Now Deborah Cox." This is followed by a disposition of the decedent's collectibles. The document says, "All My Collictables: Everything including two pistols and two rifles, none fired: to Nephew Kirk Bell." Kirk Bell's address is included. Next is a paragraph stating, "In the event of a serious sickness or accident: I do not want to be kept alive by life support means. I name my executors to see to my wishes are carried out." Then there is a heading entitled "My Estate." This is followed by two items—"House" and "Bank Account." The present market value of the house is stated to be "$225,000 to $350,000." The bank accounts include "Checking and Savings," but no balances are stated. The final paragraph states, "I would like my step daughter, Debra Cox to be able to live in the house as long as she wants before putting it up for sale."

Cox testified that the name written at the top of this document appeared to be written by the decedent. She explained that the decedent often left her notes to do things for him that were in block letters, with his name also written in block letters, similar to that on the holographic will. Cox had never seen the decedent write in cursive, although she had come across checks where he had signed his name. Cox explained that her stepfather was aware of the value of properties in the neighborhood because he would talk to people on the block when properties were for sale. Therefore, she believed that his estimate of the value of the house at $225,000 to $350,000 likely reflected values at the time he wrote the document. Cox estimated that the current value of the house is approximately $700,000, which she believed indicated that the document was written some years ago. Where she found the notepad, in the decedent's desk drawer, he would have had easy access to it.

Cox testified that the decedent had told her that "he put [her and his sister-in law] both down as the executor for his will." He was aware that Cox had previously been the executor for her grandmother's estate and he knew that the probate had gone smoothly. Cox testified that she is "the general cashier in charge of the cash" at the Marriott Hotel in Santa Clara. In this position, she handles forty-nine thousand dollars in cash each day. Prior to being the general cashier, Cox was "the accounts payable" person and was in charge of "paying bills." Cox also testified that "on two occasions" her stepfather had promised her the house. He had told her "if I stayed there with him, I would get the house if he died, and then also when the house was paid off and he showed me the paper from the bank and says now, you don't have anything to worry about." The decedent had two life insurance policies. One was payable to Cox, and her niece was the beneficiary of the other one.

The decedent and Virginia Towle divorced when their two children, Eric and

66 Cal.Rptr.3d 40

Gayle, were three and seven respectively. Virginia Towle remarried four years later and subsequently began using Towle as her last name and the last name for her children. The decedent also remarried and began living with his second wife and her children, including Cox. In the 1970's, they moved as a family to 1945 Serge Avenue, San Jose, where the decedent lived until his death in 2005. Cox left home while in college, but moved back into the home at 1945 Serge Avenue for good in 1988, at her stepfather's request after her mother had died. She provided companionship and care for her stepfather for the last 17 years of his life. She did things such as fixing his dinner, cleaning, shopping, doing laundry, running errands, picking up medications, and taking him to the doctor. When he became ill, she continued to take care of him. The night before he died, she went to the hospital with him and stayed with him until he died. The Towle family decided not to have a funeral because the family had plans for Virginia Towle's birthday. Cox later learned that the cremation had taken place and that the ashes had been sent back to Nebraska. She and her niece were very upset by this.

Cox testified that she and her stepfather had a close, loving, familial relationship. She called him "dad." He had mentioned to her that he wanted to adopt her. In contrast, she testified that the decedent had a "distant" relationship with his biological children. She said that Eric Towle only visited his father "five times" in thirty years, although' he lived in Scotts Valley and worked in San Jose. His father's home was only approximately 15 minutes off of the route Towle would take back and forth to work. Cox thought Towle called his father "two or three times a year." Cox remembered four occasions when the decedent's daughter visited him in thirty years. She did not remember the decedent's daughter calling. Cox felt that the families were completely separate after the divorce and that the decedent essentially became part of his second wife's family. She said her stepfather had been "very upset" when he found out that his biological children were no longer using his name.

Towle and Virginia Towle provided testimony that conflicted with Cox's testimony regarding family relationships and the way the decedent wrote documents. Virginia Towle testified that the decedent loved his biological children and that she and her children socialized with the decedent "constantly." "He was invited to everything and anything that had to do with graduation, special performances in school.... There was constantly baptisms and weddings.... [We] were always there together." Virginia Towle explained that Cox "never" attended those events and that the...

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17 practice notes
  • In re Estate of Baker, Supreme Court No. S-15971
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Alaska (US)
    • December 30, 2016
    ...v. Crutcher , 11 Hump. 377 (Tenn. 1850)).47 In re Kinney's Estate , 16 Cal.2d 50, 104 P.2d 782, 784 (1940).48 Estate of Williams , 155 Cal.App.4th 197, 66 Cal.Rptr.3d 34, 43 (2007) (emphasis in original) (quoting In re Brooks' Estate , 214 Cal. 138, 4 P.2d 148, 149 (1931) ).49 Hall v. Brigs......
  • Masters v. Ries, D070963
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • March 22, 2017
    ...the document as a will, and the document was written in part by Wolf and contained his name. (See In re Estate of Williams (2007) 155 Cal.App.4th 197, 207.) The question relevant to the court's undue benefit finding is whether a reasonable trier of fact can infer that the paper reflected Wo......
  • Rogers v. Sherman, B234621
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • March 20, 2012
    ...standards of interpretation be construed as a command. (See Estate of Collias (1951) 37 Cal.2d 587, 589-590; Estate of Williams (2007) 155 Cal.App.4th 197, 213-214; Estate of Beauchamp (1967) 256 Cal.App.2d 563, 568-569; Estate of Hood (1943) 57 Cal.App.2d 782, 786-788.) However, the genera......
  • Quintana v. Brennan (In re Estate of Wagner), A154747
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • December 17, 2020
    ...(1995) 40 Cal.App.4th 1198, 1205.) If so, " 'the particular form of the instrument is immaterial.' " (Estate of Williams (2007)Page 13 155 Cal.App.4th 197, 212; accord, Estate of French (1964) 225 Cal.App.2d 9, 15.) In short, " 'the true test of the character of an instrument is not the tes......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
17 cases
  • In re Estate of Baker, Supreme Court No. S-15971
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Alaska (US)
    • December 30, 2016
    ...v. Crutcher , 11 Hump. 377 (Tenn. 1850)).47 In re Kinney's Estate , 16 Cal.2d 50, 104 P.2d 782, 784 (1940).48 Estate of Williams , 155 Cal.App.4th 197, 66 Cal.Rptr.3d 34, 43 (2007) (emphasis in original) (quoting In re Brooks' Estate , 214 Cal. 138, 4 P.2d 148, 149 (1931) ).49 Hall v. Brigs......
  • Masters v. Ries, D070963
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • March 22, 2017
    ...the document as a will, and the document was written in part by Wolf and contained his name. (See In re Estate of Williams (2007) 155 Cal.App.4th 197, 207.) The question relevant to the court's undue benefit finding is whether a reasonable trier of fact can infer that the paper reflected Wo......
  • Rogers v. Sherman, B234621
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • March 20, 2012
    ...standards of interpretation be construed as a command. (See Estate of Collias (1951) 37 Cal.2d 587, 589-590; Estate of Williams (2007) 155 Cal.App.4th 197, 213-214; Estate of Beauchamp (1967) 256 Cal.App.2d 563, 568-569; Estate of Hood (1943) 57 Cal.App.2d 782, 786-788.) However, the genera......
  • Quintana v. Brennan (In re Estate of Wagner), A154747
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • December 17, 2020
    ...(1995) 40 Cal.App.4th 1198, 1205.) If so, " 'the particular form of the instrument is immaterial.' " (Estate of Williams (2007)Page 13 155 Cal.App.4th 197, 212; accord, Estate of French (1964) 225 Cal.App.2d 9, 15.) In short, " 'the true test of the character of an instrument is not the tes......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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