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Section 72-2-522(3), MCA. The language of that statute does not admit of any exception or qualification, but clearly permits a court to discretionarily admit extrinsic evidence bearing on testamentary intent in any will dispute. As a practical matter, a court will generally turn to extrinsic evidence when the alleged testamentary document is ambiguous as to intent; however, a court may admit extrinsic evidence in any will dispute where that evidence is helpful in ascertaining testamentary intent or lack thereof. Mont. Code Ann. § 28-2-905(2) and (3).
Mr. Charles Kuralt, decedent, and petitioner Shannon first met in 1968. The decedent, who was a married man, invited petitioner to dinner that began a protracted personal relationship between them that lasted nearly thirty years until the untimely death. They succeeded in keeping their relationship a secret. The decedent purchased a home and then deeded the property to petitioner as a gift. That same year, decdent purchased a 20-acre parcel of property along the two additional parcels adjoining the land constituting approximately 90 acres, which were the primary subject of this appeal. In 1989, the decedent executed a holographic will. It made no specific mention of the description or location of any of the real property, in Montana or elsewhere, that had been owned by the decedent. The beneficiaries under the decedent’s Last Will and Testament were his wife and two children; neither petitioner nor her children were named as beneficiaries. In 1997, the decedent deeded his interest in the original 20-acre parcel with the cabin to petitioner. He also intended the 90-acres of Montana property be given to petitioner. Tragically, the decedent became suddenly ill and was confined at a hospital. That same day, he wrote a letter to petitioner in which he expressed grave concern for his health and arguably sought to devise the remainder of the Montana property to her. Enclosed with this letter were two checks made payable to petitioner. After this letter was mailed, he did not have any formal testamentary document drawn up devising the 90-acres of Montana property to petitioner. Thus, petitioner sought to probate the letter, as a valid holographic codicil to decedent’s formal 1994 will, a claim which the district court rejected in its summary judgment ruling. Petitioner challenged the trial court's grant of partial summary judgment to respondent probate estate, she also claimed that the handwritten letter that decedent sent to her few days before he died evinced a separate testamentary intent to bequeath land in Montana to her.
Was there a triable issue of fact as to whether decedent's handwritten letter contemplated a separate testamentary intent?
On appeal, the state's highest court held that the trial court did not err in permitting extrinsic evidence of decedent's intent to give the land to petitioner into the record because extrinsic evidence was permitted under Mont. Code Ann. § 72-2-522(3). The court held that although decedent's letter was not a holographic codicil to his will as a matter of law, a triable issue of fact existed as to whether the letter expressed a current or a future testamentary intent. The court reversed the trial court's grant of partial summary judgment to respondent probate estate and remanded, directing the trial court to submit the extrinsic evidence of testamentary intent to a jury.