Law School Case Brief
In re Estate of Kuralt - 2000 MT 359, 303 Mont. 335, 15 P.3d 931
Montana courts are guided by the bedrock principle of honoring the intent of the testator.
Shannon and Kurait maintained a long and intimate personal relationship. Each desired to keep their relationship secret. Kurait executed a formal will were the beneficiaries were Kurait's wife and two children, but the will did not specifically mention any of the real property owned by Kurait. Two weeks before his death, however, Kurait wrote a letter to Shannon expressing that "I'll have the lawyer visit the hospital to be sure you inherit the rest of the place in Montana." After Kurait's death, Shannon sought to probate the letter as a valid holographic codicil to Kuralt's formal 1994 will. The District Court held that the letter was a valid holographic codicil to Kuralt's formal will and accordingly entered judgment in favor of Shannon. The Estate appealed.
Was it proper for the court to recognize the letter as a codicil?
The court affirmed the judgment. The court held that the record supported the district court's finding that the letter expressed the deceased's intent to effect a posthumous transfer of his property to Shannon. That the deceased wrote the letter in extremis was supported by the fact that he died two weeks later. The use of the term "inherit" by the deceased reflected his intention to make a posthumous disposition of the property. The court agreed that the letter was a codicil to the deceased's formal will, as a matter of law, because it made a specific bequest of property and it did not purport to bequeath the entirety of the estate.
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