IN RE: WISE'S ESTATE.

Reset A A Font size: Print

District Court of Appeal, First District, Division 1, California.

IN RE: WISE'S ESTATE. LEWIS v. HOWSER, Atty. Gen.

Civ. 13729.

Decided: February 16, 1949

Edward D. Mabson, of San Francisco, for appellant. Fred N. Howser Atty. Gen., of California, and Richard H. Perry, Deputy Atty. Gen., for respondent.

John E. Lewis, as the administrator of the estate of Eva Effie Jones, petitioned the probate court to determine the heirship of Eva to Ira Wise, whose estate was in the course of probate, and also moved the court for leave to file an amended petition. The trial court denied the motion and dismissed the petition. From that judgment and order Lewis, as the administrator of Eva, appeals.

The facts are as follows: On November 23, 1942, Ira Wise died intestate leaving no issue, surviving spouse or surviving parents. Emma, his wife, had died intestate in March of 1942. On May 9, 1945, W.O. Crutchfield, sole surviving brother of Emma, filed a petition to establish his heirship to Ira Wise, it being contended that, since there were no issue or surviving parents of either Emma or Ira, he, Crutchfield, as the sole surviving heir of Emma, was entitled to share in the estate of Ira.

On June 11, 1945, Betty Bly and Earnest Bly filed a petition to determine heirship to Ira, alleging that Betty was the aunt, and Earnest was the first cousin of Ira; that “Ira Wise died intestate and left no wife, no issue or surviving parents and Betty Bly and Earnest Bly and the estate of Eva Effie Bly Jones [Eva was alleged to have been a first cousin of Ira], since deceased, are the only persons entitled to participate in the estate of Ira Wise”; that, on information and belief, Emma Wise left no surviving heirs; that Crutchfield was not entitled to inherit. This petition was signed by “Richard M. Lyman, Attorney for Betty Bly and Earnest Bly and representing the estate of Eva Effie Bly Jones, deceased.” Eva had died on March 4, 1944, and when the Lyman petition was filed no administrator had been appointed for the estate of Eva. Notice of the hearing of the Lyman petition was posted as required, the notice designating Betty and Earnest as the petitioners.

On August 28, 1945, a minute entry was made which reads, in part, as follows: “* the court now rules that, W.O. Crutchfield is found to be a brother of Emma Wise deceased, and the petition of W.O. Crutchfield to Establish Heirship in the Estate of Ira Wise, * is by the court ordered and the same hereby is granted. * The court further orders that the Petition of Betty Bly and Earnest Bly to Establish Heirship in the Estate of Ira Wise, * (Petition also includes Estate of Eva Effie Jones, deceased) be and the same hereby is denied.”

The minute order likewise discloses that William Jones, the surviving husband of Eva Effie Jones, was sworn as a witness and testified on behalf of Betty and Earnest Bly.

The decree based on this minute order was filed September 6, 1945. It finds that Crutchfield was represented at the hearing and that Lyman, who is designated as “attorney of Record for Eva Effie Jones,” also represented Betty and Earnest Bly; that “proof having been made to the satisfaction of the court that notice of the hearing of said petitions has been given as required by law”; that Crutchfield is the brother and sole surviving heir of Emma Wise and, as such entitled to participate in the estate of Ira Wise; that “the allegations in the petition of Betty Bly and Earnest Bly are untrue (save and except the allegation that Ira Wise died intestate and left no wife, no issue or surviving parents,) and not supported by proper or competent testimony offered, presented or introduced to establish any right of heirship of said Betty Bly, Earnest Bly or Eva Effie Jones mentioned in said petition as Eva Effie Bly Jones, or to establish any right or interest of said Betty Bly, Earnest Bly and/or said Eva Effie Bly Jones, in the estate of said Ira Wise.

“That said Betty Bly, Earnest Bly and/or said Eva Effie Bly Jones, or either or any of them, are not heirs of said Ira Wise and therefore have no right, title, interest, claim or demand in or to said estate of Ira Wise, and are not entitled to participate in the distribution of said estate of Ira Wise.”

No appeal was ever taken from this decree and it long since has become final. A little over a year after the entry of this decree, on November 13, 1946, the petition of John E. Lewis, who had, after the entry of the decree, been appointed administrator of the Estate of Eva Effie Jones, was filed to determine if the estate of Eva was entitled to share in the estate of Ira Wise. It is there alleged that William Jones, husband of Eva, on August 28, 1945, had filed a petition to determine heirship of Eva, which was denied. This is clearly an error, inasmuch as that petition was filed by the attorney Richard Lyman. The petition of Lewis then alleges that, at the time of the hearing of the above-mentioned petition, no proper proof was presented that Eva was dead, and no person entitled to represent the estate of Eva was present; that Eva was the cousin of Ira Wise, and, as such, entitled to participate in his estate.

Inasmuch as the court had held that Crutchfield was only entitled to a portion of Wise's estate, and inasmuch as there was a possibility of a partial escheat, the State of California intervened and answered. It denied the allegations of the petition and alleged: “The petition does not state facts sufficient enable the court to determine that Eva Effie Jones is an heir of Ira Wise, deceased, for the reason that the subject matter of the petition to determine heirship has previously been finally determined adversely to petitioner's contention.”

Subsequently, Lewis, as administrator, requested leave to file an amended petition. On June 25, 1947, the probate court denied this request and dismissed the petition.

The main contention of appellant is that the first decree of heirship was void, because, at the time it was filed, Eva Effie Jones was dead and no administrator had, as yet, been appointed. The question thus posed can be simply stated: Is a decree of heirship conclusive as to the estate of a deceased person, no administrator having been appointed? The answer is equally simple: Such a decree is conclusive, as against a collateral attack, because, being a decree in rem, it is res judicata as to the whole world.

Appellant places considerable reliance on certain statements appearing in Garrison v. Blanchard, 127 Cal.App. 616, 16 P.2d 273. At page 619 of 127 Cal.App., at page 274 of 16 P.2d appears the following: “A judgment rendered against a party in an action, who dies after its commencement but before the rendition of judgment is voidable and may not be collaterally attacked. A judgment rendered against a party, who died before the action is commenced, is void and may be collaterally attacked. [Citing authorities.] In an action to foreclose a lien upon the estate of a deceased ward, where the record settling the guardian's account showed that notice thereof was given by posting, evidence is admissible to show that the legal representative of the ward's estate was not in existence to receive notice during a necessary part of the ten days required. Livermore v. Ratti, 150 Cal. 458, 89 P. 327.” See, also, Conlin v. Blanchard, 219 Cal. 632, 28 P.2d 12. Those rules have no application to heirship proceedings. In the heirship proceeding filed by the Blys the court undoubtedly had jurisdiction of Ira Wise's estate, including the issue of the status of heirship. Such a proceeding is not an ordinary civil action, but a specialized proceeding in rem. The res is the right of heirship and distribution. As to that issue the judgment is binding on the whole world. See cases collected 11b Cal.Jur. p. 664, § 1195.

The pertinent code sections governing these problems are §§ 1080 through 1082 of the Probate Code. Section 1080 provides: “When the time to file or present claims against the estate has expired, but the estate is not in a condition to be closed, any person claiming to be an heir of the decedent or entitled to distribution of the estate or any part thereof may file a petition setting forth his claim and praying that the court determine who are entitled to distribution of the estate. The clerk shall set the petition for hearing by the court and give notice thereof for the period and in the manner required by section 1200 of this code. Any person may appear and file a written statement setting forth his interest in the estate. No other pleadings are necessary and the allegations of each claimant shall be deemed to be denied by each of the other claimants to the extent that they conflict with any claim of the latter.”

Section 1081 provides that trial of the facts must be by jury unless it is waived; that if it is waived “the court shall hear the petition and any objection thereto that may have been presented, and shall determine who are the heirs of the decedent or entitled to distribution of the estate and shall specify their interests.”

Section 1082 states that: “When such decree becomes final it shall be conclusive upon the matters determined during the remainder of the administration of the estate and upon any subsequent proceeding for distribution.”

Section 1200 provides the mode of giving notice, stating that the clerk shall give notice of the petition by causing a notice to be posted at the courthouse ten days before the hearing “giving the name of the estate, the name of the petitioner and the nature of the application, referring to the petition for further particulars, and notifying all persons interested to appear at the time and place mentioned in the notice and show cause, if any they have, why the order should not be made. * Proof of the giving of notice must be made at the hearing; and if it appears to the satisfaction of the court that said notice has been regularly given, the court shall so find in its order, and such order, when it becomes final, shall be conclusive upon all persons.”

The nature of a decree rendered under these sections is described as follows:

11a Cal.Jur. p. 134, § 73, at p. 135: “In other words, such judgments are founded in proceedings, not against persons as such, but against or upon the thing or subject matter itself, whose status or condition is to be determined; and the judgment, when rendered, is a solemn declaration of the status of the thing, and ipso facto renders it what the judgment declares it to be.”

11b Cal.Jur. p. 671, § 1200: “In the nature of things there must be parties to any judicial proceeding, and in an heirship proceeding there will be the petitioner and all persons interested in the estate and subject litigated, whether they are named or not named and do or do not appear. While the statutory notice and the served or mailed notices run to all persons interested, there is not in the present statute any requirement that any persons shall be named as parties, although the claims set forth or pleaded may disclose those who are opposed in interest.” See, also, 11b Cal.Jur. p. 676, § 1205.

11b Cal.Jur. p. 680, § 1208, at p. 681: “It is conclusive against all persons as the basis for the decree of distribution which is to follow, and settles the rights of all who claim as heirs, whether or not they are named in the complaint or personally served with summons, and whether or not they are named in the notice or in the affidavit for its publication.”

Title & Document Restoration Co. v. Kerrigan, 150 Cal. 289, at page 307, 88 P. 356, at page 359, 8 L.R.A.,N.S., 682, 119 Am.St.Rep. 199: Such a decree is binding on all persons claiming as heirs “whether or not they are named in the complaint or personally served with summons.”

Edlund v. Superior Court, 209 Cal. 690, at page 695, 289 P. 841, at page 843: “Distribution in the administration of such an estate is a proceeding in rem which ordinarily has not the nature nor characteristics of an action at law or in equity wherein adverse personal interests of the parties are tried and adjudicated. [Citing authorities.] Although notice is required *, there is no necessity for appearance or participation in the proceedings by an heir or devisee as such unless objections are filed or until conflicting claims arise among them. * Even upon the determination of any such action or proceeding during the course of administration there is no judgment in personam in favor of one of the parties against another. The ultimate aim and purpose of administrative proceedings, including any special proceeding or contest to determine heirship, is to ascertain the persons entitled to share in the estate of the decedent and to decree distribution accordingly. It will not be questioned that justice and sound policy requires that the estates of decedents be distributed to persons rightfully entitled thereto, and that every concern and endeavor of a probate court should be to the accomplishment of that purpose. This does not mean that a valid decree of distribution of a probate court, when once final, may be disturbed at the behest of any rightful claimant, known or unknown, when the decree was rendered, for it is the well-settled policy of the law to preserve the inviolability of final judgments and decrees of courts of law and equity, and a valid decree of a court of probate partakes of the nature of such judgments.”

In re Blythe's Estate, 110 Cal. 231, at page 234, 42 P. 643, at page 644: “It was intended to construct a wider, better, and more just and effective method of determining heirship to one dying intestate, where there are many conflicting claimants of such heirship. It gives a longer time, and affords ampler opportunities to contestants to present and litigate their claims, than they formerly had, when the ordinary decree of distribution was conclusive; and we have no doubt that the legislature intended by said section to make the decree under it conclusive against all persons, and the unquestioned basis for the decree of distribution which was to follow. And this, of course, the legislature could do in a proceeding in rem, such as the one under discussion.”

In the present case we are dealing with an in rem proceeding in which notice, under the statute, was posted and directed to all persons interested, and in which any person claiming to be an heir of Ira Wise was entitled to appear. If Eva Effie Jones was an heir of Ira Wise, then any of her heirs were persons interested under Probate Code, § 1080, and could have appeared. William Jones, the surviving husband of Eva and her sole heir, had the legal right to seek to establish his claim to a distributive share of the Wise estate under § 1080 when the prior heirship proceeding was heard. The record shows that he did, in fact, testify in that proceeding on behalf of Betty and Ernest Bly. Admittedly, William Jones' wife was the sister of Earnest Bly, so that proof of Earnest's relationship to Wise would be identical to the proof of Eva's relationship to Wise. Yet, in the first heirship proceeding Earnest was held not be an heir of Wise. That automatically determined that Eva was not so related. Section 1080 was designed to prevent useless and unnecessary repetitive hearings. Estate of Horman's Estate, 167 Cal. 473, 140 P. 11.

Appellant also argues that the notice in the first heirship proceeding was defective under § 1200 of the Probate Code in that it did not contain the name of Eva Effie Jones or of her estate. Section 1200 requires the notice to state “the name of the petitioner”, and that “Proof of the giving of notice must be made at the hearing; and if it appears to the satisfaction of the court that said notice has been regularly given, the court shall so find in its order, and such order, when it becomes final, shall be conclusive upon all persons.” The court found in the first heirship proceeding that proof had been made to its satisfaction that notice of the hearing of the petition had been given as required by law. The notice named Betty and Earnest Bly as petitioners. That was correct, and the petition to establish heirship so avers. Eva Effie Jones was not a petitioner in that proceeding, and, being dead, could not be so designated until an administrator had been appointed. The heir of Eva, her husband, was a person interested against whom the decree operated, but was not a petitioner. Thus, the record in the present case shows that notice was properly given as found by the court.

The judgment and order appealed from are affirmed.

PETERS, Presiding Justice.

WARD and BRAY, JJ., concur.