Estate andtrust litigation cases are usually tried before a judge rather than a jury. In a nonjury trial, the trial court is required to issue a statement of decision, upon a timely request by a party, explaining the factual and legal basis for its decision as to each of the contested issues. (California Code of Civ. Procedure §632.)
With respect to a future appeal, the statement of decision provides a record of the trial court’s reasoning, which the appellate court may review in determining whether the trial court’s decision is supported by the evidence and the law.
If a statement of decision is not issued and the case proceeds to an appeal, the appellate court will invoke the doctrine of “implied findings.” This means that the appellate court will presume that the trial court made all factual findings necessary to support the judgment for which substantial evidence exists in the record. In other words, the necessary findings of “ultimate facts” will be implied and the only issue on appeal is whether the “implied” findings are supported by “substantial evidence.” Invoking the doctrine of “implied findings” may result in affirmance on appeal of a judgment or order that otherwise might have been reversed.
Accordingly, when an estate litigation case proceeds to a nonjury trial, if an attorney anticipates filing a future appeal he should timely request a statement of decision from the trial court.