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Estate of Ben-Ali

California Court of Appeal
157 Cal. Rptr. 3d 353 (2013)


Facts

Hassan Ben-Ali had two children, D’Artagnan Lloyd and Taruk Ben-Ali, with two different mothers. Hassan owned an apartment building, and in 1993, transferred the building to Taruk, potentially to avoid losing the building to the IRS. After the transfer, Hassan continued to manage the building as he had before the transfer. In 2002, Taruk married Wendelyn Wilburn. In 2004, Taruk disappeared. In 2008, it was revealed that Taruk had died of a drug overdose in 2004, but that Hassan had concealed the death, even from Wilburn, potentially to maintain control of the apartment building. Hassan had forged Taruk’s signature on documents related to the building after his death. Later in 2008, Hassan committed suicide. Among Hassan’s possessions was Taruk’s purported will. The will left Taruk’s personal property to Wilburn and left all other assets, including the apartment building, to Hassan. The will named Hassan as the executor of Taruk’s estate. The will was signed by two witnesses, “Wendy Ben-Ali” and a second name that was illegible. Wilburn denied signing the will. Wilburn petitioned the probate court for appointment and for letters of administration. Lloyd also petitioned for appointment and for probate of the will. The probate court found Wilburn’s testimony unreliable, found her signature on the will to be authentic, and imputed that authenticity to the other, illegible signature. Consequently, the court denied Wilburn’s petition to contest the will, and granted Lloyd’s petition for probate of the will. Wilburn appealed, arguing that the will was invalidly executed and, as a result, that she was entitled to all of Taruk’s assets via intestate succession.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Margulies, J.)

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