Trusts and Estates

Wehsener v. Jernigan

Cite as D079623
Filed December 28, 2022
Fourth District, Div. One

By Jaime B. Herren
Holland & Knight LLP

Headnotes: Intestate Succession – Presumption of Natural Parentage

Summary: In probate of the estate of an intestate California decedent, clear and convincing evidence of a non-biological parent-child relationship established the presumption of natural parentage forming the basis of the claim of heirship, even though the parent-child relationship was effectuated outside California.  

The petitioner, Shannon, was the decedent’s cousin and claimed to be his sole intestate heir.  Judy objected, claiming she qualified as a natural heir, having been held out as a natural child by Charles, the decedent’s uncle.  Judy contended she was entitled to one-half of the decedent’s estate as issue of the decedent’s maternal grandparents.  On the bifurcated issue of heirship, tried on stipulated facts, the probate court determined that Judy was an intestate heir.  Under California law, clear and convincing evidence established that Charles received Judy into his home in Indiana and openly held Judy out as his natural child, including in public records dating back to at least 1961 and in his last will and testament.  Thus, he was presumed to be Judy’s natural parent and she was therefore an heir at law. 

The appellate court affirmed.  Shannon failed to present evidence to rebut the presumption of natural parentage, and that presumption cannot be rebutted purely on public policy grounds.  The appellate court also rejected Shannon’s argument that California law should not apply because the parent-child relationship was effectuated in Indiana.  California law applies to determine parentage-related claims of heirship for a decedent domiciled in California at death.  Moreover, California’s public policy encourages protection and preservation of the parent-child relationship and the result under Indiana law was immaterial to the analysis.

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