Estate of Russell

The Facts

• T executed a holographic will which left everything to Chester and Roxy, besides a $10 gold piece and diamonds, which she left to Georgia
• Chester was a close friend of T who lived in on of the units on T’s property
• Roxy was a dog which was alive on the date of the execution of the will but predeceased T
• Georgia is T’s niece and T’s only heir at law

Procedural History

• Georgia petitioned for determination of heirship on the basis that Roxy, as a dog, was not entitled to take under a will
• TC found for Chester, ruling that it was T’s intent for Georgia to only take the gold and diamonds and for Chester to have the entire estate as well as to care for T’s dog (which was not necessary since Roxy predeceased T)

The Issue

Whether the gift of one-half of T’s estate to Roxy was clear and unambiguous
Whether the gift to Roxy was void and the property subject thereof to pass to Georgia under intestate laws
Whether TC erred in admitting extrinsic evidence offered by Chester that did not cure the invalidity of the gift

The Rule

• To determine whether the terms of a will are clear and definite, the court must consider the circumstances under which the will was made.
• A dog cannot be a beneficiary under the will
• Extrinsic evidence may be considered by the court in ascertaining what the testator meant by the words used in the will

The Holding/Disposition

• No
• Yes
• Yes

Court’s Reasoning

• TC interpretation of will was erroneous because no words of the will give the entire residuum to Chester, much less indicate the provision to the dog is precatory in nature
• T intended to split her estate between Chester and Roxy
• Since Roxy can’t take, that half goes to Georgia

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