In re Estate of Craigen, 305 S.W.3d 825 (Tex. App.—Beaumont 2010, no pet.).

Wills

Interpretation

Conflicting Dispositions

 

Testator’s holographic will provides that his wife is to “get[] everything till she dies” but later in the will he leaves his wife “all [] real & personal property.” Both the trial and appellate court determined that the will was ambiguous. Although there was no extrinsic evidence of Testator’s intent, the courts applied standard interpretation rules to conclude that Testator intended to leave his wife all his property outright and not just a life estate.

The court based its conclusion on a variety of factors including (1) the will was drafted by a lay individual and thus terms are given their popular, rather than technical, meaning so that “till she dies” does not create a life estate but merely states the obvious, that a person may only use property while alive, (2) if the will granted his wife a life estate, the remainder would pass via intestacy and wills are interpreted to avoid intestacy, (3) Texas law favors the early vesting of interests, and (4) the will was ambiguous as Testator referred to his wife by using two different first names.

Moral: Wills should be drafted by lawyers with estate planning expertise to prevent this type of problem.

Note: The court also could have used the construction rule that if two provisions of a will conflict, the latter provision controls.



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