Famous Family, Simple Legal Principles.
Though the opinion opens with a fanfare announcing, “George R. Hearst, Jr. . . scion of the wealthy Hearst family,” the facts and legal points are actually pretty simple.
George and Susan Hearst married in 1998, and entered into a marital property agreement (MPA) in 2002, whereby Susan waived her community property interests in George’s assets in exchange for $10 million in cash and a life estate in certain real property. Susan accepted the $10M in cash without attempting to invalidate the MPA. After George died, however, Susan filed claims against his estate and trust seeking her share of community property. Following mediation, Susan entered into a written settlement agreement, providing an additional $550K, with $140K allocated to her life estate in a residential property and $410K allocated to her community property claims.
Susan signed the settlement agreement, but refused to accept respondents’ tendered performance, triggering the filing of a successful motion for entry of judgment under Code of Civ. Proc., section 664.6 in the probate actions. Susan appealed. Estate of Hearst, Case Nos. B251912 and B251964 (2/6 Dec. 16, 2014) (Perren, Gilbert, Yegan) (unpublished).
The settlement agreement, stating it was binding and could be enforced by motion under section 664.6, was admissible in evidence under Evid. Code, section 1123. Susan may not have read the entire agreement – but she signed it, and therefore was deemed to assent to its terms. Marin Storage & Trucking, Inc, v. Benco Contracting & Engineering, Inc., 89 Cal.App.4th 1042, 1049 (2001). And: “Susan was represented by three attorneys from two different law firms.” Apparently Susan decided to forego legal advice on her MPA claims – a fact that did not render the settlement agreement unenforceable because section 664.6 only requires a written agreement signed by the parties, not legal advice. Given her legal representation, her entitlement to $10,550,000, and lack of evidence about her late husband’s personal (as opposed to familial) wealth, Susan was unable to show procedural and substantive unconscionability.
Is anyone surprised the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgments?