Sullivan v. Hatchett, No. 07-17-00296-CV, 2019 WL 545578 (Feb. 22, 2019, no pet. h.).


Interpretation and Constrution -- Partial Intestacy


Testator’s will gave his surviving spouse a life estate in his property. However, he did not provide clear instructions as to what was to happen after her death. One provision did provide for the disposition of 60% of his estate but only if certain conditions were satisfied such as his wife dying first, both dying at the same time, or wife not surviving by 90 days. The residual clause disposed of only 40% of the estate. Nonetheless, the trial court allowed 60% of the estate to pass under the conditional provision even though none of the conditions actually occurred.


The appellate court reversed. None of the conditions triggering disposition under the 60% provision applied and the residuary clause covered only 40% of the estate. Thus, 60% of the estate passed by intestacy.


The dissenting justice argued that the conditional provision should apply even if none of the conditions occurred because when that provision disposing of 60% is combined with the residual clause disposing of 40%, Testator’s estate is completely distributed without resorting to intestacy.


Moral:  A will drafter must carefully consider as many contingencies as possible when drafting dispositive provisions. It is likely that Testator intended the disposition in the conditional provision to govern 60% of the estate after his wife’s death. However, the unambiguous language of the provision prevented that from occurring.