[¶ 1] Todd and Alison Gurney appeal from a judgment of the York County Probate Court (Nadeau, J.), finding that the will of Fermin Gonzalez was a valid holographic will. The Gurneys contend that material provisions of the will were not handwritten, and therefore it was not a valid holographic will. We affirm the Probate Court's judgment.
I. CASE HISTORY
[¶ 2] In August of 2001, Fermin Gonzalez visited his brother, Joseph, and Joseph's wife, Elizabeth. Gonzalez was planning to fly to Florida, and he wanted to prepare his will before he left. Gonzalez showed Elizabeth and Joseph two copies of a preprinted will form. On the first copy of the form, Gonzalez had handwritten his testamentary wishes. Elizabeth testified that he had already filled out the form by the time she saw it, but that she did see him sign the document. The document, with italics indicating handwriting, reads as follows:
[¶ 3] This document was signed by Gonzalez, but not by any witnesses. Additionally, several phone numbers and other notes appear to be written in the margins of the document.
[¶ 4] Gonzalez also presented Elizabeth and Joseph with a blank copy of the form. Elizabeth testified that Gonzalez was planning to copy the information neatly onto the blank form, and that he asked Elizabeth, Joseph, and his mother to sign the blank form as witnesses. They signed the blank document.
[¶ 5] Gonzalez became ill suddenly, and died on August 22, 2001. Three of Gonzalez's daughters, Kerry Gonzalez, Tara Gonzalez Grenon, and Kristin Gonzalez petitioned to probate the will. Todd and Alison Gurney, who are also Gonzalez's children, moved for a summary judgment, arguing that the will was not a valid holographic will.
[¶ 6] After trial, the Probate Court denied the motion, and found that the will was a valid holographic will. The court reasoned that:
[¶ 7] When reviewing an order of the Probate Court, we will defer to the Probate Court's factual findings unless they are clearly erroneous, but we will review the application of law de novo. Estate of Horne, 2003 ME 73, ¶ 17, 822 A.2d 1177, 1181.
[¶ 8] The document that Gonzalez signed does not qualify as a will under 18-A M.R.S.A. § 2-502 (1998), because it was not signed by any witnesses. Therefore, in order to be allowed or admitted to probate, the document must qualify as a holographic will under 18-A M.R.S.A. § 2-503 (1998). A holographic will is one where "the signature and the material provisions are in the handwriting of the testator." 18-A M.R.S.A. § 2-503. The comment from the Uniform Probate Code helps to explain the meaning of the statutory language:
Unif. Probate Code § 2-503 comment (1998).
[¶ 9] The Gurneys argue that Gonzalez did not execute a valid holographic will because a material provision of the will—evidence of testamentary intent—appears in the preprinted portion of the document, and was not handwritten. They maintain that the handwritten words are a list of what Gonzalez wanted to do with his property, but the handwritten words do not indicate that the conveyances were testamentary in nature.
[¶ 10] We have not yet addressed the impact that preprinted will forms have on holographic wills. Most jurisdictions have dealt with this issue in one of two ways.
[¶ 11] Some courts have looked to the preprinted language in order to determine the context of the handwritten words. In Estate of Muder, 159 Ariz. 173, 765 P.2d 997, 1000 (1988), the Supreme Court of Arizona held that a person who handwrote his wishes on a preprinted will form had effectuated a valid holographic will because the person's testamentary intent was clear. The court stated:
[¶ 12] Other courts have ignored all of the preprinted words, and determined
[¶ 13] We agree with the Supreme Court of Arizona and hold that printed portions of a will form can be incorporated into a holographic will where the trial court finds a testamentary intent, considering all of the evidence in the case. The Probate Court, after reviewing the document and hearing the evidence, explicitly found such an incorporation into the holographic will in this case: "[T]he hand-written material. . . implicitly adopted and incorporated the printed text on the form and converted the form into a more clear will."
[¶ 14] The Uniform Probate Code comment states that "a holograph may be valid even though immaterial parts such as date or introductory wording be printed or stamped." Unif. Probate Code § 2-503 comment (1998). The printed words in Gonzalez's will: "BE IT KNOWN that I _____, a resident of ______, County of ______, in the State of _________, being of sound mind, do make and declare this to be my Last Will and Testament expressly revoking all my prior Wills and Codicils at any time made" and "I direct that after payment of all my just debts my property be bequeathed in the manner following" are introductory phrases and may be preprinted. When filled in by the testator's handwriting, as here, they can become a valid statement of testamentary intent in a holographic will.
[¶ 15] We have long subscribed to the principle "that the right of testamentary disposition is considered to be of great importance." Estate of Foss, 160 Me. 214, 219, 202 A.2d 554, 557 (1964). This principle has resulted in a "well-known policy of the courts to uphold wills and not destroy them." Appeal of Sleeper and Littlefield, 129 Me. 194, 205, 151 A. 150, 156 (1930). This policy must particularly hold true in the realm of holographic wills. See Estate of Muder, 765 P.2d at 1000.
[¶ 16] Because we read 18-A M.R.S.A. § 2-503 and its comments in light of this policy, Gonzalez's handwritten words may be read in the context of the preprinted words, and the Probate Court could properly find that the document is a valid holographic will.
The entry is: