In re Estate of Shannon
224 Cal. App. 3d 1148, 274 Cal. Rptr. 338 (1990)
Shannon wrote a will. It gave
all of his estate to his daughter Beatrice and her son Donald.
The will explicitly stated
that Shannon had "intentionally omitted all other living
persons." It also contained an in terrorem clause.
An in terrorem clause basically says that anyone who
contests the will is immediately disinherited.
12 years later, Shannon
married Lila. Then he died.
Lila contested the will,
claiming that she was a pretermitted spouse.
A pretermitted spouse is a person who marries someone after they've
made their will and the spouse never gets around to changing the will to
include the new person.
There is an assumption that
the person meant to include the new spouse but just forgot.
The Trial Court rejected
Lila's claim. Lila appealed.
The Trial Court found that
Shannon's exclusionary clause covered Lila.
The California Appellate Court
Under California State law,
if a testator fails to provide by
will for a spouse they married after the will was executed, the omitted
spouse receives the share they would have received under intestate
succession, unless there is clear
and convincing evidence that:
The testator purposely omitted the spouse, or
The testator took care of the spouse through non-probate
transfers (trusts, etc), and explicitly mentioned so.
The California Supreme Court
found that there was not enough evidence to rebut the presumption that
Shannon unintentionally omitted Lila in his will.
Shannon's blanket statement
that he was intentionally leaving everyone out was too broad and
general. The Court felt that if Shannon had intended to omit Lila he
would have mentioned her by name (or at least as "my future
If Lila had lost, she could
have still taken an elective share.
While this case was still
being decided, Lila died, so Lila's son from a previous marriage wound up
with the money.
Under the Uniform Probate
Code, this case would have been
decided quite differently!
Under UPC § 2-301, if there is a child from a previous marriage
(aka Beatrice) then all property that was devised to that child is exempt
from the estate that the pretermitted spouse would take an intestate share of (aka $100k +1/2 what's left).
Therefore, if this case
were decided under the Uniform Probate Code, then all the property bequeathed in the
will would have first gone to Beatrice, and only what was left over
(which was 0%) would go to Lila.
Only children from a
previous marriage are covered by this provision. Money willed to other
relatives, friends, and charities is not exempt.