Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Tunstall v. Wells (Cal. Ct. App. - Oct. 31, 2006)

Family. The bedrock of civilization. The repository of love, affection, and caring.

Unless, apparently, you're the children of Robert Wells. Who died in February 2005, with five children. To three of the children -- all daughters -- he left $50,000 each. To his other two children -- his only son and his (apparently favorite) other daughter -- he left the remainder of his (substantial) estate. Nice.

One more thing. Wells left his three daughters $50,000 each conditioned on a no contest clause, so if they fight the will, they get nothing. But wait. There's more. He's sufficiently fancy (and/or spiteful) that he also includes a clause of first impression here in California. That says that if any of the three daughters contests the will, then all of them get nothing. Sweet!

One of the daughters wants to contest the will. But doesn't want to thereby disinherit her other two "ugly duckling" sisters. So she brings an action to declare that the clause that would do so is against public policy. An action with the "favorite" daughter, Elizabeth, opposes. "It's mine. Mine mine mine. All mine!"

Ultimately, Justice Rothschild concludes that the trial court was wrong, and that this provision does not violate public policy. And I agree with her, albeit somewhat reluctantly. Dead people are entitled to be bungholes. The judiciary need not agree with a deceased's decision in order to uphold it.

That said, not to speak ill of the dead, but I must say that I don't have a very favorable opinion of the dear departed Mr. Wells. Granted, I don't know his family. Maybe his three daughters were total jerks, and Elizabeth and the son were the only grateful ones.

But I doubt it. And, if they were indeed jerks, they may well have taken after their father.

Not a family dynamic of which I'd like to be a part.