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Estate of Woodworth

California Court of Appeal for the Fifth District
22 Cal. Rptr. 2d 676 (1993)


Facts

Harold Evans Woodworth’s will created a testamentary trust, of which his wife, Mamie Barlow Woodworth, was the life beneficiary. Upon her death, the trust was to terminate and the principal be paid to Harold’s sister, Elizabeth Woodword Plass (Elizabeth), or if Elizabeth predeceased Mamie, to Elizabeth’s heirs at law. Harold died in 1971 and was survived by Mamie, Elizabeth, as well as Elizabeth Woodworth Holden and James V. Woodworth (Woodworth heirs), two children of a deceased brother. Prior to Mamie’s death in 1991, Elizabeth Plass died in 1980 survived by her husband, Raymond Plass, who also predeceased Mamie in 1988 and left the residue of his estate to the Regents of the University of California (Regents). When Mamie died, Wells Fargo Bank (plaintiff) petitioned the court for a determination of who qualified as Elizabeth Plass’ heirs under the terms of the trust. Specifically, Wells Fargo sought instructions regarding whether Elizabeth Plass’ heirs at law were to be determined when Elizabeth died in 1980, in which case Elizabeth’s husband Raymond would be her heir, or when Mamie died in 1991, in which case the Woodworth heirs would be Elizabeth’s heirs. Holding that the heirs should be determined upon the death of the life tenant, the probate court ordered payment of the trust proceeds to the Woodworth heirs. The Regents appealed asserting that under the general rule determining heirs upon death of the named ancestor, Raymond was Elizabeth’s heir and therefore the trust assets were payable to the Regents as the residuary beneficiary of Raymond’s estate. The Woodworth heirs argued for application of the exception to the general rule.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Di Biaso, J.)

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