Texas Supreme Court Reverses Ambiguous Will Holding . . . Teaches Valuable Lesson

In Knopf v. Gray, the will disposed of the testator’s entire estate as follows:

 “NOW BOBBY I leave the rest to you, everything, certificates of deposit, land, cattle and machinery, Understand the land is not to be sold but passed on down to your children, ANNETTE KNOPF, ALLISON KILWAY, AND STANLEY GRAY. TAKE CARE OF IT AND TRY TO BE HAPPY.”

Bobby then tried to sell the property to someone else and his children sued him, claiming Bobby only possessed a life estate in the property. After a lengthy legal battle, the Texas Supreme Court held that the provision in Bobby’s Will merely created a life estate:

We need only read the provision as a whole to see a layperson’s clearly expressed intent to create what the law calls a life estate. Reading all three clauses together, Allen grants the land to Bobby subject to the limitations that he not sell it, that he take care of it, and that it be passed down to his children. This represents the essence of a life estate; a life tenant’s interest in the property is limited by the general requirement that he preserve the remainder interest unless otherwise authorized in the will. Allen’s words in the contested provision unambiguously refer to elements of a life estate and designate her grandchildren, the petitioners, as the remaindermen. The language thus clearly demonstrates that the phrase “passed on down,” as used here, encompasses a transfer upon Bobby’s death.

The Court’s ruling is an important reminder to make sure your Will is clear and correct.

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Posted in Important Legal News.