Brief Fact Summary. Decedent left a will giving the residue of his estate to “my nieces and nephews.” Plaintiffs, who are children of the decedent’s wife’s siblings allege that this phrase should be interpreted to include them.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Courts will construe the language used in a will in its legal, technical, and ordinary meaning. When the language is clear and unambiguous extrinsic evidence will not be admissible to show the testator’s intent.
Archie and Dortha Carroll were married and had no children, however Archie had twelve nieces and nephews who were children of his brothers and sisters and Dortha had eight nieces and nephews who were children of her brothers and sisters. The parties executed separate wills leaving the residue of their estates to each other, but on the condition that they predecease their spouse then the residue was to pass to “my nieces and nephews that are living as of the date of my death.” Dortha died in July of 1980 and Archie in September of 1986. Plaintiffs are children of Dortha’s brothers and sisters and are sought a declaration that Archie’s bequest to “my nieces and nephews” included them as well as children of Archie’s brothers and sisters. The trial court ruled against the Plaintiffs and ordered the estate be distributed to children of Archie’s brothers and sisters.
Issue. Does the terms used in the decedent’s will “my nieces and nephews” include nieces and nephews by consanguinity and those by affinity?
Held. No. Affirm. The trial court was correct in holding that “my nieces and nephews” only included those children of Archie’s brothers and sisters.
Discussion. Points of Law - for Law School Success
Words with a well known technical meaning should be construed according to their technical meaning unless a contrary meaning clearly appears from the context of the will. View Full Point of Law
There is nothing in Archie’s will to indicate an intent that “nieces and nephews” means anything more than their legal, technical, ordinary meaning. The Court sites to several cases and treatises in which the ordinary and legal definition of “niece and nephew” is defined to include only the immediate descendants of the brothers and sisters of a person. The Court notes that if Archie had intended to include Dortha’s nieces and nephews he would have used the words “our nieces and nephews” instead of “my nieces and nephews.” Because the words are clear and unambiguous extrinsic evidence of the testator’s intent was inadmissible.