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Williams v. Estate of Williams

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Williams gave his three unmarried daughters, including Plaintiff, a joint lifetime interest in William’s farm. However, nine other children, including Etta Tallent did not obtain an interest in the farm under the will.  Under the will, Williams listed specific conditions. Etta Tallent lived on the farm until two of her sisters passed away. Plaintiff filed suit when only Etta Tallent and other lineal descendants were living. Plaintiff claimed that she held a fee simple interest in the estate, not a life. The trial court and the appellate court held in Plaintiff’s favor, and Defendant appealed.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    One who receives a joint lifetime interest in land in a will obtains a life estate, not a feel simple interest, when the other interest holders die.

    Facts.

    Under G.A. Williams (“Williams”) will, his three unmarried daughters, including Ethel Williams (“Plaintiff”) obtained a joint lifetime interest in Williams’s farm. Nine children, including Etta Tallent, who did not obtain any interest in the farm in the will, survived Williams. The will was written using legal expressions. The will described that Williams gave his three unmarried daughters had received an interest in the farm because they had remained home and took care of their ill mother. Thus, Williams wanted them to keep the farm. Further, the will stated that the farm could not be sold sisters’ were alive, that each sister’s interest would terminate and pass to her remaining sisters the moment a sister became married, and that if any sister contested the will, they would be disqualified from an interest in Williams’ estate. Neither sister married. Etta Tallent lived on the farm with her two sisters until the sisters’ died. When the complaint was filed, Williams’ only remaining descendants were Etta Tallent and other unnamed, lineal descendants (collectively known as “Defendants”). Plaintiff alleged to hold a fee-simple interest in the farm, not a life estate. Subsequently, both, the trial and appellate courts,held in Plaintiff’s favor, finding that the will had granted each of the three daughters a one-third fee-simple interest in the farm.

    Issue.

    Whether one who receives a joint lifetime interest in land in a will obtains a life estate, not a feel simple interest, when the other interest holders die.

    Held.

    Yes, one who receives a joint lifetime interest in land in a will obtains a life estate, not a feel simple interest, when the other interest holders die.

    Discussion.

    One who receives a joint lifetime interest in land in a will obtains a life estate, not a feel simple interest, when the other interest holders die. The court must interpret the will in a manner that is consistent with the testator’s intent. In this case, Williams’ intent was clearly described in the will, as he stated each unmarried daughter was to obtain the farm jointly until death or marriage. The will described William’s rational for his intentions because it stated that these daughters had stayed home and took care of their mother, thus Williams wanted the farm to be a substitute for each daughter’s lost opportunity to become self-sufficient or to find support by marrying. In the will, Williams did not want to create an absolute gift to any or all of his daughters. Instead, the will limited each daughter’s devise to her lifetime. Moreover, the will also limited the farm’s alien ability. Notably, Williams acknowledged that, at some point, his remaining heirs would receive an interest in the farm. Williams’ actions of excluding the heirs from the entire estate, if a will contest took place, would decrease the chances that the heirs would contest the daughters’ limited interests in the farm. Additionally, although Williams was not a skilled legal will writer, he used legal expressions in the proper context. Thus, the heirs obtained a reversion in fee simple, subject to the daughters’ life estates and executory interests. Therefore, the appellate court’s decision is reversed, and the case is remanded.


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