Thompson v. Royall

The Facts

  • T signed will on Sept. 4,  1932
  • Will was typewritten on 5 sheets of paper
  • T signed last page, which was attested to by 3 witnesses
  • Brittain (B), the executor, was given will for safe keeping
  • A codicil was typed on separate piece of paper on Sept. 15, 1932, signed by T and 2 witnesses
  • Codicil was given to the lawyer (L) who prepared both documents
  • On Sept. 19, 1932, L and E took both documents to T’s home at her request.
  • T asked L, in the presence of E, to destroy both documents.
  • L persuaded T not to destroy them, but rather keep them as a memo for a new will, should T decide to make one.
  • L wrote on back of cover sheet to will and the back of the codicil that the documents were null and void and T signed it.
  • T died on Oct. 2, 1932, leaving numerous nieces and nephews, some of whom were not mentioned in her will
  • Her estate was valued at approx. $200,000

Procedural History

  • Some of the beneficiaries offered both the will and the codicil for probate
  • TC jury found that the documents were T’s last will and testament
  • Writ of error was granted

The Issue

  • Whether the will of T had been revoked shortly before her death

The Rule

  • No will or codicil, or any part thereof, shall be revoked, unless by a subsequent will od codicil, or by some writing declaring an intention to revoke the same, and executed in the manner in which a will is required to be executed, or by the testator, or by some person in his presence and by his direction, cutting, tearing, burning, obliterating, canceling, or destroying the same, or the signature thereto, with the intent to revoke.

The Holding/Disposition

  • No, affirmed

Court’s Reasoning

  • Notations on the backs of the documents are not wholly in T’s handwriting.
  • No one attested to T’s signature on the notations.
  • Thus the notations are ineffectual as “some writing declaring an intent to revoke”
  • Contesters argue that that notations “cancelled” the will and codicil
  • Both parties concede that a revocation must have (1) the doing of one of the acts specified and (2) the intent to revoke
  • Proof of either w/o proof of the other is insufficient
  • Intention to revoke is established

If written words are used for the purpose of cancellation, they must be so placed as to physically affect the written portion of the will, not merely on blank parts on the paper on which the will is written

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