Brief Fact Summary. Appellants, widow and daughters (Appellants) of Testrix Maria Cline (Testrix) deceased son (Son), the residuary beneficiaries of a will, challenge an order from the district court that denied their claim that Testrix’s will was ambiguous and that the doctrine of equitable apportionment required the estate and inheritance taxes to be apportioned over the entire gross estate rather than merely the estate residue.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. The interpretation of a will is a question of law and the court’s duty is to ascertain that intent; if the intent is apparent, judicial rules of construction should not be employed to interpret the will.
Issue. If testamentary intent is clear from the langauge of a will, should judicial rules of construction be used to interpret the will?
Held. No. The interpretation of a will is a question of law and absent ambiguity should be interpreted in light of the testatrix’s intent. Only if the will contains ambiguities should judicial rules of constrction be employed. The court’s first duty in interpreting a will is to ascertain the testrix’s intent. The doctrine of equitable apportionment stands for the proposition that only property, which generates the federal estate tax, should bear the burden absent statutory direction or a clearly expressed intention to the contrary on the part of the testrix. Here, the testrix clearly intented to exonerate all property passing from her death and havethe taxes paod from her residuary estate. Appellee properly paid the taxes in accord with testrix’s intent.
Discussion. Rules of judicial construction are the tools employed by a court to determine the true meaning of text. In estate law, these rules are used to determine the deceased’s intent. However, when the intent of the deceased is clear, and statutory law does not require otherwise, the deceased’s intent should be followed and not interpreted in light of rules of judicial construction.