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, my estate is to be equally divided between [two named religious charities]. The will further provided that "I have intentionally omitted all other persons, whether heirs or otherwise, who are not specifically mentioned herein, and I hereby specifically disinherit all persons whomsoever claiming to be, or who may lawfully be determined to be my heirs at law, except as otherwise mentioned in this will. If any heir, devisee or legatee, or any other person or persons, shall either directly or indirectly, seek to invalidate this will, or any part thereof, then I hereby give and bequeath to such person or persons the sum of one dollar ($1.00) and no more, in lieu of any other share or interest in my estate.