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With respect to the creation of a life estate, no particular words are needed to create a life estate, but the words used must clearly express the testator's intent to create a life estate. A very strong presumption arises that when a person makes a will, the testator intended a complete disposition of his property. The very purpose of a will is to make such provisions that the testator will not die intestate. When faced with ambiguity, and in applying that presumption, courts generally interpret wills to avoid creating an intestacy.
The testator executed a holographic will. The children argued that the testator intended to leave a life estate to his wife, and they argued that the remainder of the estate passed to them through the laws of descent and distribution. The children argued that the will gave the wife a life estate, but the testator did not utilize those exact words in his will. The trial court held that it was the intent of the testator to leave his entire estate to his surviving wife in full and there was no intention to leave the wife a life estate.
Did the trial court properly interpret the dispository language in the holographic will?
The appellate court ruled that the will was ambiguous and under the appropriate rules of will construction, the trial court properly construed the will. Taking the will as a whole, the dominant gift was all of the testator's real and personal property, and he made that gift to his wife. As this was the dominant clause, the testator's expressed intention prevailed. The appellate court declined to apply the presumption that the testator did not intend to disinherit his children when the will expressly stated that the testator gave all of his real and personal property to the wife, and the children offered no evidence regarding the testator's situation and the circumstances surrounding the execution of the will.