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Mahoney v. Grainger

    Brief Fact Summary. Sullivan executed a will that disposed her real and personal property to her “heirs at law.” Extrinsic evidence revealed that she informed her attorney that she wanted to leave her property to her twenty-five cousins, equally. The trial judge ruled that Sullivan’s only heir at law was her aunt and not her twenty-five cousins.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Extrinsic evidence is not admissible when the beneficiary of a will can be identified on the face of the will.

    Facts. Sullivan executed a will and instructed her attorney to leave all of her real and personal property to about twenty-five first cousins equally. Her prior will left her assets to two of her first cousins. The will was duly executed. The residuary clause read, “All the rest and residue of my estate, both real and personal property I give, devise, and bequeath to my heirs at law living at the time of my decease, absolutely , to be divided among them equally, share and share alike …†The trial judge ruled that the term heirs at law only applied to her maternal aunt, Frances Hawkes Greene and not her twenty-five first cousins. Certain of the first cousins appealed form the decree disimissing the petition for distribution to them.

    Issue. Whether extrinsic evidence that a testator intended to dispose property to beneficiaries not named in the will may be admitted when a beneficiary can be ascertained from the face of the will?

    Held. No. The words used in the will, “heirs at law living at the time of my decease†undoubtedly refer to the testator’s aunt and not her cousins. The testator’ only heir at law was her aunt. Extrinsic evidence would only be admissible to help to determine the meaning of testaemtnary language that its not clear in its application to the facts.

    Discussion. The Court does not want to redraft a testator’s will. Therefore, it will not allow extrinsic evidence to change the plain face meaning of a disposition under a will.


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