Citation. Estate of Parsons, 103 Cal. App. 3d 384, 163 Cal. Rptr. 70, 1980)
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Brief Fact Summary.
Geneve Parsons wrote a will on May 3, 2006 with attesting witnesses, Evelyn Nielson, respondent, Marie Gowers and Bob Warder. Nielson and Gower were also beneficiaries. Nielson filed a disclaimer of her interest in the estate after the will was offered for probate. Parsons’s heirs at law contested the will as invalid because two of the attesting witnesses were beneficiaries under the will.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
A subscribing witness must not be interested in the estate at the time that the will is executed.
Evenlyn Nielson, Marie Gowers, and Bob Warder witnessed Geneve Parsons execute her will. The three witnesses signed the will during the same time that Parsons signed the will. Parsons gave Nielson $100 upon her death. She gave Marie Gowers specific real property in the will. After the will was offered for probate, Nielson disclaimed her interest in Parsons’s estate. The trial court admitted the will to probate. Parsons’s heirs at law appeal the decision.
May an interested witness to a will become disinterested by disclaiming her interest after the will is executed?
No. A witness to a will is only disinterested if she does not have any interest in the estate at the time the will is executed. A witness must be disinterested at the time a will is executed to ensure that the witness does not have selfish motives. Furthermore, the disinterested witness requirement protects the testator from fraud and undue influence that may arise by a person who stands to benefit from the will. The purpose of the rule would be undermined if a witness is allowed to disclaim her interest in property after the will is validly executed.
The purpose of the requirement that witnesses to a will be disinterested is to ensure that the witness is being honest about witnessing a person execute their true will. The individual motivation for attesting the will must not to receive a gift as a result of the will. That person may claim that the testator intended to and understood that he was making a certain disposition, even if the witness knows it is not testator’s true intent.