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Court Rejects Extrinsic Evidence in Will Construction Case


Matter of B.

2018 NY Slip Op 03921

May 31, 2018

In re the Will of L.B., Deceased

This court decree was entered on 6/22/17. This decision granted the Petitioner’s summary judgment and denied the respondent’s motion for summary judgment. The court held that the decedent, L.B., correctly exercised her power of appointment in creating her final will and testament. In it, she directed the trustees of two separate trusts to distribute assets to the LB Foundation.

The court said that the testator’s intent is deciphered from a sympathetic reading of the last will and testament, in view of all the circumstances in which the will was created (Matter of Fabbri 2 NY2d 236, 240 [1957]. If there appears to be a distribution plan present the will must be read in light of that purpose.

The parties concluded that if the language is read literally the decedent’s request to the residuary estate wasn’t valid because it exceeded its powers that were granted to her in the 1969 trust and in the decedent’s will. The court, however, gave effect to the intent of the decedent to provide property to the foundation. The court, however, gave effect to the intent of the decedent to provide property to the foundation. The court reasoned that it didn’t make sense for her to make a disposition for property that she knew would be invalid.

Also, article 7 of the last will and testament also showed her intention for the residuary estate to go to the foundation. She made separate bequests to the respondents as well in other portions of the will.

The respondents contend that the court did not properly consider the evidence, and the will was unclear. The court, however, specifically said that it would not consider any outside evidence and would need to rely only on the decedent’s intent, as set forth in the will. The court considers the respondents’ additional arguments are without merit.

Generally, the court recognizes that the intent of the decedent controls the disposition of their estate. Extrinsic evidence is usually only admissible in court to resolve a latent ambiguity. Normally for the court to ascertain the decedent’s intent, the court will look within the four corners of the document and consider all of the provisions taken together.

Extrinsic evidence is described as any evidence that is derived from any other source besides the will or trust agreement itself. Only where there is a true ambiguity can the court consider evidence from outside the four corners of the document to carry out the decedent’s intent.

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