Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

California Appellate Court Addresses Harmless Error Rule

Holographic-Wills The testator, Steven Wayne Stoker, left his estate to his two children. Stoker dictated his will to a friend who misspelled the children’s names. On the same night Stoker dictated his will, he burned a previous will that favored his ex-girlfriend. The new, rogue will read:

To Whom It May Concern: I, Steve Stoker revoke my 1997 trust as of August 28, 2005. Destiny Gularte and Judy Stoker to get nothing. Everything is to go to my kids Darin [sic] and Danene [sic] Stoker. Darin [sic] and Danene [sic] are to have power of attorney over everything I own.

Witnesses did not sign the will, but the friend testified that she wrote down exactly what Stoker had dictated to her and that Stoker had reviewed the will prior to signing it. The daughter also testified that Stoker had ended his relationship with the ex-girlfriend and was worried that the ex-girlfriend would come into his house and steal his belongings.

A California appellate court sided with the children in the case now known as the Estate of Stoker. This case was likely the first of its kind to address the harmless error rule—a rule passed in California in 2008 that protects will contests focused on minor procedural mistakes in form.

Though this case may result in lessening the number of expectant heirs prevailing on contests of rouge wills when only procedural mistakes exist, the case could have been avoided all together. Had Stoker executed a formal document, however simple, that clearly stated his desire to revoke his previous will, then Stoker would have saved his children from both expense and delay.

See Arden Dale, California Gives ‘Rogue’ Wills More Validity, The Wall Street Journal, Jun. 20, 2011.

Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse (WealthCounsel) for bringing this article to my attention.


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You really had me puzzled. What could a will possibly have to do with cosmetic rouge or a point scored in Canadian football? Finally looked at the WSJ article and realized you were just being roguish.

Posted by: JLM | Jun 21, 2011 6:35:26 AM

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