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Zhao v. Wong

Citation. Zhao v. Wong, 48 Cal. App. 4th 1114, 55 Cal. Rptr. 2d 909, 96 Cal. Daily Op. Service 6239, 96 Daily Journal DAR 10149 (Cal. App. 1st Dist. Aug. 20, 1996)
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Brief Fact Summary.

Appellant contends that a handwritten note that was found in the decedent’s office, which contained no subject, verb, or description of property, cannot be a valid holographic will. Respondent, the decedent’s girlfriend, argues that the note is a valid holographic will passing the decedent’s estate to her.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Although a will does not require any specific language, a handwritten note that does not contain any words of an intent to transfer property at death cannot be a valid holographic will.


Tai-Kin Wong was a successful business man who was never married and had no children. At the time of his death he had been living with his girlfriend, Respondent Xi Zhao, for three years. On New Years Ever in 1992 Wong died in the emergency room of an unexplained illness. After his death an envelop was found in his office that contained a handwritten note which read “All Tai-Kin Wong’s Xi Zhao, my best half TKW 12-31-92.” This was admitted to probate by the Respondent and found by the trial court to be a valid holographic will passing all of Wong’s estate to the Respondent. Wong’s father, the Appellant, contends that this document cannot constitute a will as a matter of law because there is a lack of sufficient evidence showing testamentary intent.


Can the document found in Wong’s office, containing eight words, seven of them being proper names, constitute a valid holographic will?


No. Reversed. The document cannot constitute a will as a matter of law because it does not contain any words that describe property that is meant to be bequeathed nor are there any words of donative intent.


A valid holographic will must be entirely in the handwriting of the testator, must be signed, dated, and evidence testamentary intent. No particular words are required to create a will and extrinsic evidence may be considered if the document does not completely evidence testamentary intent. However the Court notes that every will must contain words legally sufficient to create a disposition of property.

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