Knopf v. Gray, 545 S.W.3d 542 (Tex. 2018).


Construction and Interpretation

Life Estate


The key issue in the this case what interest Testatrix devised in her will when she said:


Now [Son] I leave the rest to you * * * Understand the land is not be sold but passed on down to your children * * *. TAKE CARE OF IT AND TRY TO BE HAPPY.”


The trial and appellate courts held that the will unambiguously granted Son a fee simple interest. The language regarding passing the property to Son’s children was merely precatory or invalid as a undue restraint on alienation.


The Supreme Court of Texas reversed holding that the devise created a life estate in Son and a remainder in his children. The court also rejected the argument that the direction that the land not be sold was an invalid disabling restraint on alienation. Instead, the court explained that one of the inherent traits of a life estate is a restraint on the life tenant’s ability to alienate the remainder interest.


Moral:  The language points towards a lay drafted will. Thus, the lesson to learn is that wills should be prepared by an experienced estate planning attorney to reduce the likelihood of this type of issue arising.