Substantial Compliance

David was in his late 60s. recently, his health had turned for the worse. While he worked hard at his construction business and was very successful, he also made time to exercise regularly in the California sun. Therefore, his failing health was a shock to the family. It seemed that he only had months to live.

David was living with a woman named Marie. They met over 10 years ago when she was fresh out of college looking for job and he was looking for a bookkeeper. At the time, David had recently divorced and was feeling fragile. He felt that the impact of his divorce took a toll on his two children, who were both in their early 20s, so he avoided creating new relationships. Initially, Marie worked as a bookkeeper. However, the two eventualy started dating. She later moved in with him and started living the high life.

David’s children did not like Marie. She was their age and living with their father. They viewed her as an opportunistic golddigger. In the beginning, Marie presented herself as someone who could be a friend of the two. In time, when she felt that their hatred toward her would not subside, she avoided them. When the children came to the house, she would go out for a spin in the Cadillac. She made sure that if David’s children saw her, she would spite them by engaging in the high life. This made David’s children even more resentful.

While they despised Marie, they were not concerned about her getting David’s money. David executed a will 10 years before he met Marie. When he divorced, he reworked his will to make certain his ex-wife would not get a portion. According to the will, David’s children would get everything. Marie, his unmarried girlfriend, would get nothing.

When David passed away shortly after, the children brought the will to probate. Though saddened by the loss of their father, they were happy to finally get rid of Marie. At the probate hearing, Marie produced a will that was dated later than the earlier will. This new will stated that Marie was to retain the marital home and all its furnishings and cars. The remainder of the estate would be split three ways, between Marie and David’s two children.

The children’s lawyer objected on multiple grounds. The lawyer found several mistakes in the will: There were no witnesses, the names of David’s children were spelled incorrectly, the description of the house was not entirely accurate, and more. Marie’s lawyer responded that the new will supersedes because it is in substantial compliance with the law.

Substantial Compliance

California case law recognizes the concept of “substantial compliance” wherein a will that substantially complies with the law can have merit in court. Even though a beneficiary’s name is spelled wrong or a will is missing witnesses, a court will look to see if there is substantial compliance. The facts and circumstances surrounding the case will be telling whether the substantial compliance doctrine can make a will valid.

Considering drafting a will? Contact the law offices of Melanie Tavare, a Northern California trusts and estates attorney.

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