Estate of Woodworth
18 Cal. App. 4th 936, 22 Cal. Rptr. 2d 676 (1993)

  • Woodworth died. His will left some money to his wife Mamie. The rest went into a testamentary trust. That trust gave Mamie a life income. After her death, the money remaining in the trust went to Woodworth’s sister Elizabeth, or her heirs if she does not survive longer than Mamie.
    • Woodworth also had two brothers. Both predeceased him, but one had two children.
  • Elizabeth survived Woodworth, but died before Mamie. She was survived by her husband, who then died and left his estate to the University of California.
    • Elizabeth died intestate.
    • Go Bears!
  • Mamie died. The successor trustee (Wells Fargo Bank) petitioned the Probate Court to help determine who the money in the trust should go to.
    • Woodworth’s nieces and nephews argued that who Elizabeth’s heirs are should be determined using the date of Mamie’s death.
      • That would mean that since anti-lapse applies, the $$$ would pass to Elizabeth’s surviving heirs at the time of Mamie’s death, namely them.
      • The argument is that basically that Elizabeth owned nothing until Mamie died, therefore the bequest to her didn’t occur until after she was dead.
    • The University of California argued that the date of Elizabeth’s death should be used.
      • That would mean that the $$$ would pass to her husband which would then pass to his heir, namely them.
      • The argument is that Elizabeth was vested at the time of her death, which basically means that she ‘held title’ to the money in the trust, and even though she didn’t get possession until Mamie’s death the money (aka future interest) was part of her estate and transferred to her husband.
  • The Probate Court found that the date of Mamie’s death should be used to determine who the heirs-at-law are. The University of California appealed.
    • The Probate Court looked only at the plain language of the trust provision and did not consider any extrinsic evidence.
  • The Appellate Court reversed and said the date of Elizabeth’s death should be used to determine who the heirs-at-law are.
    • The Appellate Court looked to the common law, which said that when a gift has been made to ‘heirs’ of a named individual (Elizabeth), then the testator has said in effect that he wants the property distributed as the law would distribute it if the named person died intestate.
      • Therefore, the normal time for applying the statute of descent or distribution is at the death of the named individual.
        • Therefore the future interest in Woodworth’s estate went along with Elizabeth’s estate to her husband’s estate to the University of California.
    • The Appellate Court noted that there is an exception. If the testator manifests an intention that the statute of descent be applied at an earlier or later time, then that intention takes precedence.
      • For example, Woodworth could have said that the $$$, ‘would go to and vest to Elizabeth’.
    • The Appellate Court also noted an exception in cases in which the distribution is dependent on survivorship (such as a class gift).
      • In cases like that, vesting does not occur until it is 100% determined who should get the gift, which is based on who is still alive when the person with the life tenancy dies.
      • But in this case, the money was definitely going to Elizabeth regardless of when she died, therefore nothing was dependent on survivorship.
  • Under the Uniform Probate Code § 2-711 says the opposite of the common law and claims that the gift takes effect when the person comes into possession. Therefore, the money would not have become Elizabeth’s until Mamie died. Since Elizabeth was already dead, that gift would go to Elizabeth’s children under anti-lapse.
    • In order to defeat anti-lapse, you have to have clear and convincing evidence of survivorship, as well as further information such as, “and if she doesn’t survive, then the money goes to…”