In re Estate of Shannon
224 Cal. App. 3d 1148, 274 Cal. Rptr. 338 (1990)

  • Shannon wrote a will. It gave all of his estate to his daughter Beatrice and her son Donald.
    • The will explicitly stated that Shannon had “intentionally omitted all other living persons.” It also contained an in terrorem clause.
      • An in terrorem clause basically says that anyone who contests the will is immediately disinherited.
  • 12 years later, Shannon married Lila. Then he died.
  • Lila contested the will, claiming that she was a pretermitted spouse.
    • A pretermitted spouse is a person who marries someone after they’ve made their will and the spouse never gets around to changing the will to include the new person.
      • There is an assumption that the person meant to include the new spouse but just forgot.
  • The Trial Court rejected Lila’s claim. Lila appealed.
    • The Trial Court found that Shannon’s exclusionary clause covered Lila.
  • The California Appellate Court reversed.
    • Under California State law, if a testator fails to provide by will for a spouse they married after the will was executed, the omitted spouse receives the share they would have received under intestate succession, unless there is clear and convincing evidence that:
      • The testator purposely omitted the spouse, or
      • The testator took care of the spouse through non-probate transfers (trusts, etc), and explicitly mentioned so.
    • The California Supreme Court found that there was not enough evidence to rebut the presumption that Shannon unintentionally omitted Lila in his will.
      • Shannon’s blanket statement that he was intentionally leaving everyone out was too broad and general. The Court felt that if Shannon had intended to omit Lila he would have mentioned her by name (or at least as “my future wife.”)
  • If Lila had lost, she could have still taken an elective share.
  • While this case was still being decided, Lila died, so Lila’s son from a previous marriage wound up with the money.
  • Under the Uniform Probate Code, this case would have been decided quite differently!
    • Under UPC § 2-301, if there is a child from a previous marriage (aka Beatrice) then all property that was devised to that child is exempt from the estate that the pretermitted spouse would take an intestate share of (aka $100k +1/2 what’s left).
      • Therefore, if this case were decided under the Uniform Probate Code, then all the property bequeathed in the will would have first gone to Beatrice, and only what was left over (which was 0%) would go to Lila.
      • Only children from a previous marriage are covered by this provision. Money willed to other relatives, friends, and charities is not exempt.