DECEMBER 4, 2000 VOLUME 8, NUMBER 23
Frank Magrini died in 1965, and his estate was subjected to the probate process in his home state of Washington. The probate took almost ten years to complete, but everything passed to his wife before it was closed in 1974. Nearly a quarter century later three people claimed that they had recently learned that Mr. Magrini was their father, and asked to reopen his probate and recover some portion of his estate from his widow’s estate.
The confusing story began in the 1940s, when Fischer and Anna Allotta were married. The couple had three children: Marie (now Pitzer), Carolann (now Guilford) and James. Mr. and Mrs. Allotta were divorced in 1960.
The Allotta children knew their aunt and uncle, Rose and Frank Magrini—Rose was their father’s sister. After uncle Frank’s death in 1965 they had less contact with aunt Rose. Then in 1995 James Allotta visited Mrs. Magrini in the hospital; his sister Carolann was present at the time. After James Allotta left, Mrs. Magrini removed her oxygen mask, indicated Mr. Allotta and said "Frank’s son."
That startling statement got Carolann Guilford thinking about her family, and she asked other relatives and family friends to help untangle the history. They told her a startling story: Frank Magrini had a long-standing affair with his wife’s sister-in-law, they said, and he was the biological father of all three of Anna Alotta’s children. Part of the evidence cited by family members was that Fischer Allotta, who had raised the children as his own, was in fact sterile due to syphilis.
In the meantime Rose Magrini died, and her estate was admitted to probate in Washington courts. The Allotta children filed a request that the court reopen Frank Magrini’s decades-old probate estate, and award them a share of Rose Magrini’s estate to compensate them for the share they should have received from Frank Magrini’s estate.
After considering the arguments, the probate court decided that the Allotta children were not entitled to any share of Rose Magrini’s estate. That decision assumed that they could prove that Frank Magrini was their biological father, but the judge decided that the probate was long closed and no reason had been shown to review what had been done in the 1960s.
The trial court’s decision was appealed. The three Allotta children argued that Mrs. Magrini had a duty to inform them of her husband’s probate proceeding at the time it took place, and that the probate rules unconstitutionally discriminated against illegitimate children. The Washington Supreme Court decided that it is more important to have some finality in probate proceedings, and dismissed the children’s claim. Pitzer v. Union Bank of California, September 14, 2000.
Even if Mr. Magrini really was the children’s father, probate rules in place at the time of his death required notice to be given only to illegitimate children who had been acknowledged by their father in writing. The Washington Supreme Court decided that those rules prevented a decades-later challenge to the validity of the probate proceeding, and declined to impose a trust against any of the money Mrs. Magrini had received from her husband's estate.