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Provisions in Decedent’s Will Could Be Reformed by Recourse Based on Religious Charities’ Extrinsic Evidence

The court noted that "the charities have articulated a valid theory that will support reformation if established by clear and convincing evidence."

Last Reviewed: March 10, 2021
Key point. Some courts interpret charitable bequests in a testator's will based on extrinsic evidence outside the four corners of the will itself.

The California Supreme Court ruled that a decedent's will leaving his estate to two religious charities if he and his wife died simultaneously could be reformed by recourse to extrinsic evidence to show that he wanted his estate distributed to the charities even if he survived his wife, so long as the charities could show by "clear and convincing evidence" that this was the decedent's true intent.

In 1984, a 72-year-old male (the "decedent") prepared a "holographic" (i.e., handwritten) will in which he left all of his property to "my beloved wife" who was then 58 years of age. He left to his brother "the sum of one dollar." The will provided that

should my wife and I die at the same moment, ...

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  • June 19, 2017
  • Last Reviewed: March 10, 2021

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