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Arnheiter v. Arnheiter - 42 N.J. Super. 71, 125 A.2d 914 (Super. Ct. 1956)

Rule:

A court has no power to correct or reform a will or change any of the language therein by substituting or adding words. The will of a decedent executed pursuant to statute is what it is and no court can add to it.

Facts:

Burnette K. Guterl died on December 31, 1953, leaving a last will and testament which has been admitted to probate by the Surrogate of Essex County. By paragraph 2 of the will, her executrix was directed "to sell my undivided one-half interest of premises known as No. 304 Harrison Avenue, Harrison, New Jersey," and use the proceeds of sale to establish trusts for each of decedent's two nieces. It was found, however, that the decedent did not own or have any interest in 304 Harrison Avenue either at her death or at the time her will was executed. Plaintiff-executrix has applied to the court to correct the mistake, and to change the street number in paragraph 2 of the will to read “No. 317 Harrison Avenue” instead of “No. 304 Harrison Avenue.”

Issue:

Does the court have the power to correct a mistake in a decedent’s will by changing the language in it?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The Court held that it did not have the power to correct or reform a will or change any of the language in it by substituting or adding words. Instead, the Court granted relief to plaintiff by construing the will provision under the doctrine falsa demonstratio non nocet, which held that where a description of a thing or person consisted of several particulars and all of them did not fit any one person or thing, less essential particulars could be rejected provided the remainder of the description clearly fit. By applying this doctrine, the Court dropped the house number and, because the decedent only owned one parcel of real property on the described street, and did not otherwise dispose of it in any other provision of the will, was able to conclude that the remaining description of the property was sufficient to identify the property.

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