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Court Rejects Late Challenge to Previously Admitted Will

Jose Marbaix died in March 2011. Marbaix, who was in her 80s, apparently had no living heirs, and her estate plan apparently consisted of a handwritten-or holographic-will found after her death by the Los Angeles County Public Administrator’s office. Every California county has a public administrator to oversee estates where the deceased has no known heirs and there is no executor named. Accordingly, the Los Angeles Public Administrator filed Marbaix’s holographic will and asked a probate judge to admit it to probate.

Marbaix’s will left a “significant” portion of her estate to a variety of charitable organizations, including the American Lung Association, the ASPCA, Paralyzed Veterans of America and the World Wildlife Fund. After the court admitted Marbaix’s will to probate on October 14, 2011, these organizations filed a petition for an official determination of the “persons entitled to distribution of the decedent’s estate.” When such a petition is filed, any “interested person” in the estate-which would include any heirs or beneficiaries named in the will-may file a statement in support of, or opposition to, the request for distribution.

In this case, a man named Vincent Bagby appeared with an unusual claim. In July 2012, he filed a statement with the court objecting to the proposed charitable distributions and the probate of Marbaix’s will. Bagby, whose relationship to Marbaix was not established in the court record, said that Marbaix had signed a will in 2009-the probated will was dated 2006-that left the bulk of her estate to him. Bagby produced this alleged superseding will and asked it be admitted to probate in place of the 2006 will.

Probate Courts Strictly Enforce Time Limits

Even if Bagby’s claims were true, he made them too late for purposes of California law. The probate court, and later the court of appeals, dismissed Bagby’s objections as untimely. Once a will is admitted to probate, a person seeking to revoke that probate has 120 days to petition the court. Bagby’s petition came nine months later, more than twice the statute of limitations. The only exceptions to the 120-day limit are if the court incorrectly determined the person who made the will is actually dead-which was not the case here-or if there was “extrinsic fraud” in obtaining the probate.

“Extrinsic fraud” means a party is deprived of its day in court because of some other party’s misconduct. But here, Bagby never presented any evidence of such third party misconduct. He also presented contradicting claims to the probate and appeals courts. At one point, he said he had only “recently” learned of Marbaix’s death before filing his objections. Later, he said he was not informed of her death because he was serving a military tour in Iraq (a story that was inconsistent, according to the appeals court). In any event, Bagby never presented any evidence that the public administrator, acting as Marbaix’s personal representative, failed to follow proper procedures.

Don’t Represent Yourself

The Marbaix case is discussed here for illustrative purposes only and should not be treated as a binding statement of California law. One notable feature of this case is that Vincent Bagby represented himself in court, which is rarely a good idea. Whether you’re making a will or a family member objecting to a will, it’s essential to work with a qualified California estate planning attorney who can ensure you follow all legal requirements. Contact the Law Office of Scott C. Soady today at 1-877-435-7411.

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