Dan Kellogg - Estate Planning Attorney

At the trial court involving the validity of a will, a judge ruled that the decedent’s siblings were the rightful heirs. However, the appeals court (In re the Matter of the Estate Of Cecilia Brost) wants clarification on the evidence the court relied on to make that decision.

Stepchildren Filed a TEDRA Petition

The Trust and Estate Dispute Resolution Act (TEDRA) is a Washington State statute that governs many disputes over the distribution of assets. As explained by Renton will attorney Dan Kellogg, “When a party files a TEDRA petition, they are essentially taking the steps to bring a lawsuit regarding who can claim assets. TEDRA is used to resolve many issues—from the competency of the decedent to cases of intestate succession.” In this case, the stepchildren filed a TEDRA petition claiming that the decedent’s true intention was to pass her estate to them, not to her siblings.

Trial Court Determined the Will Unambiguously Disinherited the Stepchildren

 The trial court that heard the case dismissed the TEDRA petition filed by the stepchildren. As stated by that court, the will unambiguously disinherited them. In accordance with Washington State law, outside evidence—often referred to as “extrinsic” evidence—could not be considered. Extrinsic evidence is generally only admitted if there is an ambiguity that must be resolved. If the will is legally valid and its instructions are clear, then whatever is written in the will should be upheld. In these proceedings, the trial court determined that the will made the siblings the proper heirs.

Appeals Court Remanded the Case for Clarification of Evidence

 The stepchildren filed an appeal challenging the trial court’s refusal to allow extrinsic evidence in for consideration. The appeals court has determined that, at the current time, it cannot make a ruling on this issue.

To be clear, the court is not ordering a new trial in the case or any specific procedure. Instead, it wants to know the precise evidence and testimony that the trial court used in rendering its initial decision in favor of the siblings. Only then will the court be able to fairly review and adjudicate the appeal filed by the stepchildren.