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In re Estate of Kuralt

    Brief Fact Summary. Kuralt executed a will disposing his real property to his wife and children. Two weeks before his death, Kuralt wrote a letter to his mistress, Elizabeth Shannon, expressing his desire that she inherit a specific item of real property. Shannon attempted to probate the letter.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. When a second will does not make a complete disposition of the testator’s estate, the second will is a codicil the first will. A letter expresses testamentary intent where the evidence shows the testator believed that he was close to death at the time of writing the letter and the facts show that intent to convey a specific item of property to a particular beneficiary.

    Facts. Approximately six years after Kuralt married Suzanne Baird, he met Pat Shannon. From 1968 until 1997, Kuralt and Shannon enjoyed a long intimate relationship. Kuralt financially supported Shannon and her children. In 1985, Shannon moved into a log cabin that Kuralt had built for the two of them in Montana. Kuralt deeded his interest in the original 20-acre parcel of the cabin to Shannon during the last few months of his life. Kuralt supplied the purchase price for the 20-acre parcel. After the deed was filed, Shannon sent Kuralt, at his request, a blank buy-sell real estate form so that the remaining 90 acres along the Big Hole where the cabin was situated could be conveyed to Shannon in the same way. However, Kuralt became suddenly ill. Kuralt wrote a letter to Shannon in June of 1997 and enclosed two checks for $8,000 and $9,000. In the 1997 letter, Kuralt described his worsening medical condition and told Shannon that he would have a lawyer visit him in the hospit
    al to be sure that she would inherit the remainder of the property in Montana. When Kuralt died, Shannon sought to probate the 1997 letter.

    Issue.
    Whether a letter indicating that the testator will take actions to ensure that a beneficiary will inherit property expresses present testamentary intent or a future intent to make a will?

    Whether a document that does not dispose of the testator’s entire estate is a codicil?

    Held.
    Kuralt’s 1997 letter to Shannon expressed testamentary intent, not a future intent to create a will. The facts show the testator was sick at the time of writing the letter and died two weeks later. The testator was close to death when he wrote the letter and used the word, “inherit.” He conveyed a minor part of the parcel to the beneficiary during the last few months of his life and became suddenly ill while in the process of conveying the remaining portion of the land to the beneficiary. The testator shared a long close relationship with the beneficiary before his death. He supported her financially during her lifetime and enclosed two checks along with the letter.

    Yes. The 1997 letter is a codicil to his will because the testator only disposed of his remaining ownership interest in the Montana property and did not dispose of his entire estate


    Discussion. There was strong evidence in this case that the testator wanted the beneficiary to inherit the particular property disposed in the 1997 letter. The Supreme Court of Montana reasoned that because the testator was close to death and most likely wanted the beneficiary to inherit the property, the 1997 letter expresses testamentary intent.


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