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In re Barrie’s Estate

    Brief Fact Summary
    Barrie’s will devising real property in Iowa and personal property in Illinois was denied probate in Illinois, but Iowa held the will valid under its laws.
    Synopsis of Rule of Law.
    The Full Faith and Credit Clause does not render foreign decrees of probate conclusive as far as the validity of a will regarding real property found in a state other than the one in which the decree was rendered, nor do the doctrines of res judicata or collateral estoppel apply.
    Facts
    Barrie was a resident of Illinois when he died there while owning real property in Iowa and personal property in Illinois.  Her will directed that all her property be liquidated and then distributed in cash.  The will was offered for probate in Illinois, but Illinois held that under its laws the testator had revoked the will and thus her property would go by the laws of intestate succession to her heirs at law.  The beneficiary of the will offered it for probate in Iowa.  Barrie’s heirs at law claimed that the Illinois judgment was binding on the Iowa court.  Barrie had not revoked the will under the law in Iowa, so the property would go to those named in this will and to the heirs at law.
    Issue
    Does the Full Faith and Credit Clause render foreign decrees of probate conclusive as far as the validity of a will regarding real property found in a state other than the one in which the decree was rendered, and do the doctrines of res judicata or collateral estoppel apply?

    Held
    (Hays, J.)  No.  The general rule is that the validity and result of a will, including an intentional revocation, by which real property is devised, is to be determined by the law of the state where the real property is located.  The Full Faith and Credit Clause does not require the court of the state in which the land is located to treat the foreign decrees which determine the validity of a will, by which the land is devised, as the last word.  In addition, the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel do not apply to the findings of the first court.  Title to real property can be determined only in the state where the property is located.  Iowa is free to place its own construction on the will of a nonresident of Iowa who dies owning real property located in Iowa.  This is true whether or not the will was admitted to probate in another state before the Iowa judgment.  The Iowa statute will determine whether the will has been revoked, and so the Illinois judgment is not conclusive and binding on Iowa courts as far as the disposition of real property in Iowa is concerned.  Reversed and remanded.
    Discussion
    Though the opinion in the dissent that calls for a uniform law applying to all parts of an estate is appealing, a problem is presented by out-of-state wills operating on in-state property.  Because the state where the land is located has ultimate control over the passage of title to such land, any out-of-state disposition of the property may impose an unreasonable burden on the ability of the forum state to keep a stable record of title.  This problem does not occur where the forum controls disposition of all land inside its borders.  Questions of intestate succession to land; the validity, construction, revocation and effect of a will devising land; capacity to inherit land; and the rights of a surviving spouse in land are all governed by the law of the situs of the property.  This includes the entire relevant law of the situs, including its conflicts law


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