Law School Case Brief
Estate of Russell - 69 Cal. 2d 200, 70 Cal. Rptr. 561, 444 P.2d 353 (1968)
Broadly speaking, there are two classes of wills presenting latent ambiguities, for the removal of which ambiguities resort to extrinsic evidence is permissible. The one class is where there are two or more persons or things exactly measuring up to the description and conditions of the will. The other class is where no person or thing exactly answers the declarations and descriptions of the will, but where two or more persons or things in part though imperfectly do so answer.
Plaintiff heir, Georgia Nan Russell Hembree, filed a claim to recover one-half of the residuary estate of her aunt, Theresa Russell, Decedant. Plaintiff Hembree was Decedent's only heir at law. Decedent's will provided the her dog was to receive one-half of the residuary estate and her close friend and companion, Chester H. Quinn, was entitled to receive the other half. The trial court attempted to carry out the Decedent's intent and ruled that Decedent intended to leave her entire estate to her friend, Chester H. Quinn, with the hope that he would care for the dog. The heir appealed the judgment.
Wa a dog a legitimate beneficiary under a will?
The Supreme Court of California ruled that because the language of the will was clear and unambiguous, the trial court erred by admitting the friend's extrinsic evidence. Moreover, the intended gift to the dog was invalid because a dog could not be a beneficiary under a will. Furthermore, the court ruled, again because the will was clear and unambiguous, a trust such as the one found by the trial court, was not intended by the Decedent and was, thus, improperly imposed. Through intestate succession, plaintiff heir was entitled to receive the one-half interest intended for the dog.
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