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In re Tipler

    Brief Fact Summary. Decedent executed a holographic codicil directing that if her husband predecease her that her estate be distributed under his will. Decedent’s relatives contend that this codicil was invalid and the doctrine of independt significance could not apply because the all material provisions of the codicil were not in the decedent’s handwriting.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The doctrine of independent significance applies where the identity of the beneficiaries can be determined from facts that have independent significance outside of disposing of the decedent’s estate.

    Facts. Gladys Tipler executed a formal will on April 2, 1982 which left most of her estate to her husband, James Tipler, upon the condition that he survive her. The will did not address the distribution of her estate if she survived him. Two days later Mrs. Tipler executed a holographic codicil to the formal will which provided that if her husband predecease her that his last will and testament would control the disposition of her estate. At the time of the execution of the codicil Mr. Tipler had not executed a will. Mr. Tipler later executed a will and died in 1990. His will created a trust for Mrs. Tipler and directed that on her death the estate should be distributed to his relatives. Mrs. Tipler died in 1994. The trial court determined that under the doctrine of independent significance they could refer to extrinsic evidence to determine the identity of persons who were to take under Mrs. Tipler’s will. Mrs. Tipler’s relatives, that would receive her estate if the codicil
    was invalid, now appeal the decision by the trial court that the second document was a valid holographic codicil.

    Issue. Did Mrs. Tipler’s holographic codicil contain all material provision in her own handwriting, thus allowing the doctrine of independent significance to apply?

    Held. Yes. Evidence indicated that Mrs. Tipler wanted her estate distributed to whomever her husband wished and therefore a holographic codicil which bequeathed her estate to persons named as beneficiaries in his will does contain all material provisions. Therefore the doctrine of independent significance would apply and allow her estate to be distributed under her husband’s will even though it was not in existence at the time the holographic codicil was executed. .

    Discussion. The doctrine of independent significance is an escape mechanism from the strict requirements of incorporation by reference. It allows for a will not to be invalidated simply because the disposition cannot be fully ascertained from the terms of the will. As long as there are facts that have independent significance apart from their effect upon the dispositions in the will then the court can look to such evidence to determine the identity of who will share in the disposition. The Court agrees with the trial court that the doctrine is satisfied in this case because Mr. Tipler’s will was not written with the intention of distributing Mrs. Tipler’s estate but rather had an independent significance of distributing his own estate.


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