Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

Monday, April 5, 2021

Oklahoma Supreme Court: Children Not Mentioned In One-Sentence Holographic Will Are Pretermitted Heirs

Estate planningIn the Matter of the Estate of Chester, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held that "a testator’s son (who had shot the decedent during his lifetime leaving him with life-long injuries) was a pretermitted heir under his father’s holographic will which left the son nothing." 

Buddy Wayne Chester, the decedent, was survived by two adult children, Steven and Lisa. After Buddy died, Lisa was appointed as Special Administrator. 

One day before Lisa filed a number of petitions, Buddy's grandson, Brandon, filed Buddy's probate in Oklahoma County, claiming that Buddy had left a holographic will. Brandon objected to Lisa's filings alleging that Lisa "Was not to be administrator because of her financial issues and damage to estate property, and that Steve should be disqualified as well because he once shot the decedent." 

The holographic will left everything to Brandon and was written entirely in Buddy's handwriting. 

Steven later filed a Motion for Order determining that he was a pretermitted heir. 

The trial court found that the holographic will omitted the son as a beneficiary and that it was not accidental. The Court of Appeals affirmed. 

The Oklahoma Supreme Court held that the two children were pretermitted heirs and that the will does not express the intention to omit to provide for his children. The will was only one sentence long and never used language that expressed that the decedent wanted his children to take nothing. Instead, the decedent did not even acknowledge his kids' existence in the will. 

See Oklahoma Supreme Court: Children Not Mentioned In One-Sentence Holographic Will Are Pretermitted Heirs, Probate Stars, March 30, 2021. 

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/trusts_estates_prof/2021/04/oklahoma-supreme-court-children-not-mentioned-in-one-sentence-holographic-will-are-pretermitted-heir.html

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Comments

This is quite an interesting case. As for the bottom line, I think I agree with Probate Stars that it’s not unthinkable that decedent wanted to cut out his son, but as the Court stated, even a holographic will must comply with the statute and under the relevant case-law, it seems like that didn’t happen in this case.

On the one, he obviously knew about his adult children’s existences, yet clearly omitted them. He also had an excellent reason to omit his son because of the earlier shooting. Moreover, he expressly provided for his entire estate to go to his grandson, so nothing was left for the children. That seems like all one could ask from a holographic will. On the other, from the record it seems like he didn’t have any particular reason for wanting to shortchange his daughter. And of course, he didn’t follow any of the steps described in Estate of James, or otherwise indicate his intent using “strong and convincing” language. I actually found it most convincing that decedent’s will didn’t even rise to the level of the holographic wills in earlier cases that still found the omitted children to be pretermitted heirs. Additionally, there is the policy underlying the statute to protect the rights of the children.

Justice Kauger wrote the opinion here, and she relied heavily on Estate of James. Maybe that’s not surprising, because Estate of James was also her doing. 😊 I guess writing opinions in probate cases is something of a cottage industry for her. Justice Kauger has an interesting backstory too as one of the first female Justices on SCOOK.

I note that the Court didn’t really address the son’s secondary argument that the will in fact didn’t qualify as holographic because it wasn’t entirely handwritten. Maybe it didn’t matter in the end because the Court found him to be a pretermitted heir anyway.

As often happens for me, I was curious about the factual backstory, so I did a little digging (no pun, seriously!). There is a fairly detailed obituary posted online with a number of family pictures. Some of the pictures show the extent of decedent’s injury, although I couldn’t find any more info on that. The Court pointed out that only one of his two children (Steven) opted to challenge the will, even though both would potentially be pretermitted heirs. I thought that was interesting. Also interesting is the obituary notes decedent had many other grandchildren, but for some reason they weren’t even part of the litigation at all. I guess there’s more going on behind the scenes than is revealed in the case. Finally, it’s nice to see that he was in fact laid to rest at the Newcastle, OK cemetery just as he requested.

https://obits.oklahoman.com/obituaries/oklahoman/obituary.aspx?n=buddy-chester&pid=188298595&fhid=31856

PS: The interactive footnotes on the SCOOK website are very convenient!

Posted by: hardreaders | Apr 6, 2021 7:46:07 AM

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