In re Estate of Parsons
103 Cal. App. 3d 384, 163 Cal. Rprt. 17 (1980)

  • Parsons wrote a will. It was signed by three attesters (aka witnesses); Neilson, Gower, and Warda.
    • The will left $100 to Neilson and some property to Gower.
  • Parsons’ died. Nielson filed a disclaimer giving back the $100.
  • Parsons’ relatives (a bunch of first cousins once removed) attempted to get the will declared invalid.
    • The relatives argued that Gower’s signature on the will as a witness was invalid because she stood to gain from the will.
  • The Trial Court found the will to be valid. The relatives appealed.
    • The relatives argued that based on California State law, a gift to a interested witness (aka a subscribing witness) void unless there are two other disinterested witnesses subscribing to the will.
      • Someone who takes more under the will than they would take under intestate succession is known as an interested witness.
    • Since both Neilson and Gower received gift in the will, there were not “two other” disinterested witnesses who signed.
  • The Appellate Court reversed.
    • The Appellate Court noted that the requirement that witnesses be disinterested was once part of the common law, but had been abolished.
    • The Appellate Court found that Neilson’s disclaimer didn’t matter, because the Statute looked to the time when the will was signed, not to the time when the estate was divided. Therefore a subsequent disclaimer doesn’t make a person a disinterested witness.
    • The Appellate Court felt that their hands were tied. They found that based on the Statute as written, they had no choice but to invalidate the will.
      • The Court suggested that the California Legislature modify the Statute to be more in line with modern jurisprudence.
  • There are different ways States handle interested witnesses.
    • Under the old California Probate Code, if there is an interested witness, but that witness only can take what they would take under intestate succession.
    • Under the new California Probate Code, having an interested witness creates the presumption that there was undue influence. However, this is a rebuttable presumption. If the witness fails to rebut, they only can take what they would take under intestate succession.
    • Under Uniform Probate Code § 2-505, there is no problem at all with interested witnesses.
    • In some States, the signature of an interested witness is void. If there aren’t two other witnesses, the entire will is void.