Admissibility of Hearsay Evidence of a Decedent’s Will or Trust

In will and trust contest actions the person who signed or who supposedly signed the will or trust is usually deceased.  Statements that the decedent previously made are considered hearsay, i.e., a statement made out of court that is being admitted for the truth of the statement, and are not admissible in evidence unless a hearsay exception applies. California Evidence Code section 1260 provides an important possible hearsay exception that may apply in will and trust contest cases; however, the applicability of section 1260 depends on a determination by the Judge in the case and applicability can vary from case to case and from Judge to Judge.

California Evidence Code section 1260 provides as follows:

Section 1260.  (a) Except as provided in subdivision (b), evidence of any of the following statements made by a declarant who is unavailable as a witness is not made inadmissible by the hearsay rule:

(1) That the declarant has or has not made a will or established or amended a revocable trust.

(2) That the declarant has or has not revoked his or her will, revocable trust, or an amendment to a revocable trust.

(3) That identifies the declarant’s will, revocable trust, or an amendment to a revocable trust.

(b) Evidence of a statement is inadmissible under this section if the statement was made under circumstances that indicate its lack of trustworthiness.

And, in an action involving a claim or demand against an estate of a decedent, California Evidence Code section 1261 also provides an additional possible hearsay exception in appropriate circumstances as determined by the Judge in the case.  Section 1261 provides as follows:

Section 1261.  (a) Evidence of a statement is not made inadmissible by the hearsay rule when offered in an action upon a claim or demand against the estate of the declarant if the statement was made upon the personal knowledge of the declarant at a time when the matter had been recently perceived by him and while his recollection was clear.

(b) Evidence of a statement is inadmissible under this section if the statement was made under circumstances such as to indicate its lack of trustworthiness.

Dave Tate, Esq. (San Francisco / California)

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