Estate of McGuigan – Case Brief Summary (California)

In Estate of McGuigan (2000) 83 Cal.App.4th 639, the niece of the decedent filed a petition under Code of Civil Procedure section 1355 to claim an escheated estate, but did not disclose the existence of a known and closer heir as required by the section 1355 procedure.

The court held that "the deliberate failure to specify a known and closer heir, in violation of section 1355, constitutes extrinsic fraud sufficient to vacate the judgment under the circumstances of this case." (Id. at p. 649.)

The McGuigan decision relied heavily on an earlier decision, State of California v. Broderson (1967) 247 Cal. App. 2d 797, which found extrinsic fraud under closely parallel facts.

There, a petition to determine heirship claimed the whole estate and knowingly failed to disclose facts that would cause half of the estate to escheat to the State.

A finding of extrinsic fraud, however, is only the first element of a cause of action to set aside a judgment. The claimant must also show prejudicial error.

" 'A valid judgment will not be set aside merely because it was obtained by extrinsic fraud or mistake, in order to give the barren right to an adversary hearing. The plaintiff must plead and prove that he has a meritorious case, i.e., a good claim or defense that, if asserted in a new trial, would be likely to result in a judgment favorable to him.' " (Estate of McGuigan, supra, 83 Cal.App.4th 639, 652.)