Estate Planning Corner: The Times, They Are A-Changin’

By John O'Grady, O'Grady Law


Court of Appeal Welcomes Women to Generous Men’s College

Bob Dylan did not tell school trustees to heed the call that “The Times They Are A-Changin.” But a California Court of Appeal did. Women may now attend Deep Springs College in Big Pine, California (with 26 students, it may be the smallest institution of higher learning in the United States). The dispute concerned language from a 1923 trust providing “…for the education of promising young men.” Two members of the college’s Board of Trustees brought the lawsuit to challenge the majority’s decision to enroll women. Its founder set up a trust to fund a college to cultivate generosity rather than materialism.

The court decided that the founder intended his unique education program to be the trust’s overarching purpose rather than student gender identity. Invoking California law, it modified the trust by changing the language from “promising young men” to “promising people” because the founder could not have anticipated the changing roles of women in society and the strength that a co-ed student body would bring to the school. Arrange to have your trust artfully prepared by a qualified estate lawyer so that your intentions are honored over time without a court battle. Hitz v Hoekstra, E058293, 2017 Lexis 2530, Cal. Ct. App., April 13, 2017

Unsent Text Message Deemed to be a Will Down Under

The making of proper estate planning documents, such as a will, is the best gift you can give your loved ones this holiday season. Some fail to follow this well-traveled path, creating despair and court costs for those closest to them.

For example, an Australian man recently expressed his last wishes in an unsent text message to his brother which ended with the words “my will”. The text provided that his entire estate passes to his brother and nephew and that they “put his ashes in the back garden.” His wife contested its validity.

The Brisbane Supreme Court eventually accepted the text as a will. Another example is Canadian Cecil George Harris. He remembered that he hadn’t prepared a proper will as he lay dying in his field trapped under his tractor in 1948. Courageous, resourceful, and probably guilt-ridden, he painstakingly carved his will into the mud on the tractor fender. The Australian and Canadian judges accepted these last minute wills after lengthy litigation. California law still requires a “signature,” whatever that means. Set a good example by working with a qualified estate planning lawyer to give your loved ones a precious gift this holiday season.


About the author
John O’Grady leads a full-service estate and trust law firm in San Francisco.  His practice includes Estate Planning & Administration, Probate and Trust Litigation.