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Court Looks at Intention Underlying Will Documents


The Facts:

On 27 December 1919, a testatrix died leaving a will dated 11 February 1905 which was duly admitted to probate on 18 June 1920. Except for the printed portions of the form used, the instrument was entirely written by pen and ink. After providing for the payment of her lawful debts, the said testatrix devised all her property, real and personal, to her friend who was also named as the sole executrix with the further proviso that after her friend dies, the balance or what is left shall go to her brothers or their heirs, naming them; that it shall be equally divided between her brothers or their heirs. However, upon testatrix’ death, her friend took possession of all the real and personal property of the testatrix and made conveyances, transfers, assignments, sales, and alienations, individually and as executrix. The assets of the estate were disposed of among several persons.

Thereafter, the Public Administrator of the County of Kings filed an application for a construction of testatrix’ will and other relief.

The Issue:

The sole issue to be resolved by the court is whether or not, by the testatrix’ will, the friend took a fee or a life estate with the power of alienation or disposition.

The Ruling:

Under the rules, a New York Probate Lawyer said a will executed by a layman must be construed with that fact in mind. The testatrix’ intention must be gathered from the instrument as a whole, and when such intention is ascertained, it controls. From the records of the case, it appears that the handwritten portion of the instrument is contained in a single long paragraph, devoid of proper sentence structure, capitalization or spelling. Nonetheless, although the testatrix lacked knowledge of legal terminology used in testamentary instruments, her intentions may be gleaned from a careful reading and analysis of her will. It is apparent that testatrix had her brothers in mind as well as her friend as objects of her bounty. The testatrix’ intention to devise and bequeath to her friend a life estate with the remainder, which she called the “Balance”, to her brothers is apparent from the fact that she used the following language: “After the death of xxx (testatrix’ friend) I appoint as Executor for my Brothers as named above xxx.” There would have been no purpose in naming a successor executor unless the testatrix expected that there would be a remainder left after her friend’s death which would require an estate administration by a successor executor. What may appear to be an absolute gift expressed in an anterior clause of a will may be cut down by a posterior provision which is generally deemed to be a subsequent intention.

Evidently, Brooklyn Probate Lawyers said the testatrix had the intention to give her friend a life estate and the remainder or residuary estate to her brothers or their heirs after the death of her friend and these are revealed by the provisions in her will, viz: payment of the balance over; naming of her brothers and their heirs as recipients of such balance; specifying the shares each of such remainder men were to receive; and naming of a successor executor to protect her brothers’ interests in the estate after the death of the primary beneficiary. As a rule, where the language used points to more than one possible interpretation of the testator’s intent, that one should be adopted which prefers those of the blood over strangers. In the absence of a clear and unequivocal language to the contrary, the Court is justified in adopting a construction in favor of blood relatives.

In sum, Long Island Probate Lawyers said the Court finds that testatrix devised and bequeathed a life estate to her friend without the power to encumber or alienate the principal thereof.

Wills are subject to court procedures which may involve issues like the above mentioned case where the language of the will must be interpreted and the intention of the testator or testatrix must be determined. For advice on matters such as these, contact Stephen Bilkis & Associates. We provide consultations free of charge.

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