Holographic Rogue Wills OK, California Court of Appeals Says

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on June 21, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The California Court of Appeals presided over a unique probate case earlier this year. Ever heard of a rogue will? No, it’s not Sarah Palin’s will.

Rouge is certainly an apropos term especially in this case, because here, the will was quite inaccurate and the personalities involved were pretty preposterous.

A rogue will is that random, unknown little will that sneaks up on the presumptive heirs and catches them off guard. In many instances such will could be simple holographic wills. The case before the California Court of Appeals was known as Estate of Stoker and it’s the first California Appellate case to apply the “harmless error rule” that was passed by the State of California in 2008, writes the Wall Street Journal.

In the Estate of Stoker case, the will was dictated by Steven Wayne Stoker to a friend. The friend, however, misspelled the names of the two children who stood to benefit from the will. The will was a revision of a prior will that was in favor of Stoker's ex-girlfriend.

The issue here was the validity of the will, and ultimately, its authenticity, as it lacked the requisite signature of two witnesses.

The friend who wrote the will testified that Stoker had the final say, as he had looked at the will and signed it. She also testified that Stoker urinated on the old will right in front of her, before destroying it. That was the will, of course, that contained bequests to his ex-girlfriend, who inevitably ended up contesting the revised will.

The truth is that while estate planning rules can be relaxed in some situations, such as in allowing holographic wills, the implementation of the rules isn't as easy a route. After all, a will still needs to go through probate and be authenticated. So while such a will, containing errors, maybe considered acceptable, the will nevertheless would have to go through court and the subsequent court fees, in order to prove its authenticity and its validity.

That's why, reports WSJ, many lawyers urge individuals to have their estates planned by professionals. It's doubtful, however, (and to be hoped) whether many estate planners will be confronted with the issues presented in the Stoker case.

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