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Law School Case Brief

In re Will of Tipler - 10 S.W.3d 244 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1998)


The intent of the testator is the most important factor in will construction cases. The court must give effect to that intent unless it contravenes some rule of law or public policy. The testator's intention is to be ascertained from the particular words used in the will itself, from the context in which those words are used, and from the general scope and purposes of the will, read in the light of the surrounding and attending circumstances.


The deceased testatrix executed a formal will that left her property to her husband. Two days later, she executed a holographic codicil to her will leaving her property to be distributed in accordance to her husband's will if he should have predeceased her. At this time, the husband had not executed his will. The husband predeceased the deceased testatrix. The deceased testatrix' heirs contended that the codicil was invalid because it incorporated a document not yet in existence when the codicil was executed. 


Was the holographic codicil to the will valid?




The court affirmed the decision, finding that under Tenn. Code Ann. § 32-1-105 (1984), the holographic codicil contained all the material provisions in the testatrix' handwriting and was valid. The court found that the doctrine of facts of independent significance applied. The evidence preponderated in favor of the trial court's finding that the deceased testatrix was estranged from her family and wanted her estate to go to her husband's family. Because the deceased testatrix wanted her estate to go to whomever her husband wished, the codicil contained all material provisions in her handwriting.

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