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Estate of Philip Timothy Wilson, Deceased. v. Stephen M. Wilson et al

December 13, 2012


(San Francisco City and County Super. Ct. No. PES-09-292102) Trial Court: San Francisco County Superior Court Trial Judge: Hon. Mary E. Wiss

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lambden, J.


In 2006, Dr. Philip Timothy Wilson and Antipas Johnlang Konou executed a "Pre Registration Domestic Partnership Agreement" (the domestic partnership agreement or the agreement) and then registered as domestic partners. The agreement included waivers of any rights, claims or interest in the future property, income, or estate of the other, and required a signed writing to amend or terminate this agreement. A couple of years later, in 2008, Wilson and Konou married during the brief period that same-sex marriages were legal in California. Shortly thereafter, Wilson died.

Konou filed a petition claiming an omitted spouse's interest in Wilson's estate. The probate court rejected Konou's claim and found that Konou was an omitted spouse but that the domestic partnership agreement remained valid after the marriage and Konou waived his rights to any interest in Wilson's estate in this agreement.

Konou appeals and argues that the probate court erred because a marriage is not the same as a domestic partnership and there was no prenuptial agreement. He claims that the marriage license constituted a signed writing that terminated the domestic partnership agreement.

We hold that domestic partnership agreements that are enforceable under the Uniform Premarital Agreement Act (Fam. Code, §§ 1600-1617),*fn1 and made after statutes were enacted providing domestic partners with essentially the same California State property rights as spouses, are not automatically invalidated by a marriage license. Since Konou expressly waived his rights to any interest in Wilson's estate in the domestic partnership agreement and the validity of this agreement under the Uniform Premarital Agreement Act is not an issue, he cannot claim any interest as a pretermitted spouse in Wilson's estate. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court's order.


In 1986, Wilson executed his will. In his will, he specified that certain property was to go to Douglas Glen Vanderburg, his partner at that time. Vanderburg was to receive one-half of the residue and the remaining one-half was to be divided equally among Wilson's three brothers and one sister. Vanderburg and Wilson had registered as domestic partners with the City and County of San Francisco and they terminated that relationship on October 7, 1993.

In 2005, Wilson and Konou became involved in "a committed, personal relationship . . . ." In 2006, they decided to register as domestic partners and, prior to registering, they entered into an agreement. On May 9, 2006, Wilson and Konou, and their separate counsel, signed a domestic partnership agreement that set forth the property rights and obligations of Wilson and Konou. The parties acknowledged in the agreement that their separate legal counsel had advised them about their property rights under the law. Wilson, according to the agreement, was employed by the State of California as a chief psychiatrist and Konou was employed by an antique books dealer. The agreement noted that Konou had been incarcerated for six years, and was released in February 2005; thus, he had no recent tax returns.

The stated "purpose" of the agreement was "to define [the parties'] respective property rights and support rights, both prior to and during the course of their domestic partnership as well as in the event of termination of the domestic partnership by either death, dissolution or legal separation." The agreement included disclosures of the parties' property and financial obligations.

Under "Waiver of Property Rights," at paragraph 6, the agreement read: "Parties expressly waive any rights, claims or interest whatsoever in law or equity in the present or future property, income, or estate of the other, or to a right to receive support or any other payments of any kind from the other arising by any reason of their relationship prior to registration as domestic partners."

At paragraph 8, the agreement set forth the following: "To the extent that parties both desire a result different from the terms of the agreement herein, parties understand that a new and separate written agreement must be executed by both parties, preferably on the advice of separate legal counsel."

The parties acknowledged that they understood that the law applicable to their relationship could be modified in the future. Paragraph 10 specified as follows: "Parties acknowledge that they have been advised to discuss the applicable law with their attorneys in order to better understand the concepts of community and separate property. Parties acknowledge that some challenges [to the existing statutes] are expected and that it is impossible to understand exactly how the new statutes will be impacting registered domestic partners. Notwithstanding, parties hereby acknowledge the desire to enter into this agreement with the desire to have the terms set forth in this agreement apply to any termination of their relationship by dissolution, death or legal separation and to control their ownership of property during the relationship and to define their rights and obligations to each other in the event of termination of the relationship by dissolution, death or legal separation."

Under paragraph 14, the agreement declared the following: "No Restrictions on Transfers at Death. Each of the parties hereby waives the right to receive any property or rights upon the death of the other party unless that right is created or affirmed by the other party in a living trust, last will and testament or other written document. Each party's waiver is intended to be an enforceable waiver of that party's rights under Probate Code sections 149-147." Paragraph 18 specified that this was the entire agreement and stated as follows: "This agreement contains the entire agreement of the parties on these matters, superseding any previous agreement between them. This agreement may not be amended or terminated except in a written instrument signed by both parties."

At paragraph 31, the domestic partnership agreement provided that "[a]ny subsequent changes in California or federal law that create or give rise to additional or altered rights and obligations of the parties shall not affect this Agreement."

On May 17, 2006, Wilson and Konou registered their domestic partnership.

During the period that same-sex couples could legally marry in California, Wilson and Konou decided to marry. They married on June 30, 2008, and were issued their license and certificate of marriage on July 29, 2008. Less than five months after their marriage, on November 6, 2008, Wilson committed suicide.

In February 2009, Wilson's brother, Stephen Wilson (Stephen), filed a petition for probate of Wilson's will, and was issued letters as administrator with will annexed on March 23, 2009. On January 13, 2009, Vanderburg disclaimed any right, claim, title or interest in Wilson's estate. On May 20, 2009, Konou signed a disclaimer of any interest and disclaimed any interest in Wilson's retirement accounts, Wilson's real property, and Wilson's estate.

On April 6, 2011, Konou filed a "petition for determination of entitlement to estate distribution . . . and for invalidation of disclaimer . . . ." Wilson's four siblings (collectively, the siblings), filed an objection to Konou's petition. They filed statements ...

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