Trusts and Estates

Estate of Wall

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Cite as C087730
Filed August 24, 2021, Third District

By Jaime B. Herren
Holland & Knight LLP

Headnotes: Title Presumption – Community Property Presumption

Summary: The community property presumption of Family Code 760 prevails over title only in actions between spouses, but after death the title presumption applies.

Following Benny Wall’s death, his surviving spouse Cindy petitioned for a determination that their home, titled in Benny’s name alone, was community property because it was acquired during marriage.  Benny’s children objected, arguing that the presumption of title prevailed over the community property presumption, and that tracing proved it was Benny’s separate property.  The probate court granted Cindy’s petition on two grounds.  First, it held that the presumption that property acquired during marriage is community property prevailed over the form of title.  Second, it found that the undue influence presumption as to transactions between spouses applied to the purchase of the home, the decision to title it in Benny’s name alone, and to Cindy’s execution of a quitclaim deed in Benny’s favor. The trial court held that the undue influence presumption also prevailed over form of title. 

The appellate court affirmed.  The community property presumption applies only to actions between spouses, and the form of title presumption controls at death.  The trial court erred in holding that because the children stood in Benny’s shoes, the community property presumption applied.  Nevertheless, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s ruling, holding that the undue influence presumption applies to post-death disputes, and prevails over the title presumption.  Substantial evidence supported the finding of undue influence in the transactions between Benny and Cindy, which the children were unable to overcome.

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