Citation. 227 Va. 224,315 S.E.2d 196, 1984 Va.
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Brief Fact Summary.
A woman was left a farm, but a dispute arose as to whether it was left in fee simple or as a life estate.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
If a will does not explicitly leave a life estate in property, the creation of a life estate can be implied from the intent of the testator.
A will devised a farm to Margaret Edwards (Defendant), conditioned upon her keeping the farm free from encumbrances. If it ever became encumbered or creditors attempted to subject the farm to payment of Defendant’s debts, her interest would cease and become vested in her children. Defendant attempted to sell the farm, but one of her children, Beverley Bradley (Plaintiff), refused to let it be sold. Upon Defendant’s death, Defendant directed by will that the farm be sold and proceeds be distributed equally amongst her other children. Plaintiff alleges that the original will created a life estate in Defendant and a remainder to the children. Plaintiff seeks to enjoin the sale or encumbrance of the farm without Defendant’s consent.
If the will does not explicitly leave a life estate in property, can the creation of a life estate be implied from the intent of the testator?
Generally, a condition totally prohibiting the alienation of a vested fee simple estate or requiring forfeiture upon alienation is void. A conditional limitation imposed upon a life estate, however, is valid.
Here, the original will did not use the words ‘fee simple’ to convey the farm. The real estate was devised with words of limitation. A life estate may be created by implication as well as by explicit language, provided the will shows the requisite intent.
The intention of the testator is to be upheld if the will can be reasonably construed to effectuate the intent. Here, the will intended Defendant to have the use and benefit of the real estate free of the claims of creditors. The ultimate beneficiaries were Defendant’s children. The conditional limitation to them indicated that they were intended to take the farm when their mother’s interest terminated, whether by violation of the conditions or otherwise. Thus, a life estate was created with remainder to all the children.
A life estate can be created by implication if the language of the will can show the testator intended to create such an estate. A life estate owner has no right to determine who owns the property after her death.