Law School Case Brief
Spicer v. Wright - 215 Va. 520, 211 S.E.2d 79 (1975)
Precatory words are prima facie construed to create a trust when they are directed to an executor, but no trust is created by precatory language directed to a legatee unless there is testamentary intent to impose a legal obligation upon him to make a particular disposition of property. The question in all cases is whether a trust was intended to be created; that is, looking at the entire context of the will and the facts and circumstances properly admitted into evidence, did the testator intend to impose a binding obligation on the devisee to carry out his wishes, or did he mean to leave it to the devisee to act at his own discretion.
Leila Wilson Spicer died March 22, 1968, survived by her husband, Meade T. Spicer, Jr., her sole heir at law. In her holographic will dated May 20, 1966, admitted to probate, she named her sister, Anne Beecher Wilson as "executor" without bond. Miss Wilson died on June 8, 1970. Russell Alton Wright qualified as Mrs. Spicer's administrator d.b.n.c.t.a (de bonis nom *** testamento annexo), and as such, filed a bill seeking aid and guidance in the construction of the will. The third paragraph of the will provided: "My estate of every kind and description, personal, real estate, etc., I give to my sister, Anne Beecher Wilson to be disposed of as already agreed between us." The circuit court held that Miss Wilson acquired a fee simple title to the estate free of all trusts. Thereafter, Spicer, Jr. sought review.
Did the circuit court err in holding that Miss Wilson acquired a fee simple title to the decedent's estate free of and from all trusts?
The court affirmed the decree. The court noting the language of the will, which stated: "My estate I give to my sister to be disposed of as already agreed between us," stated that it had to decide whether such language read in context with the extrinsic evidence, was sufficient to establish an intent to create an express trust, and if so, that trust failed for indefiniteness and a resulting trust would arise in favor of the decedent's heir; if not, the decedent's sister would take the entire estate in fee simple. The court held that the language was precatory, that the extrinsic evidence was insufficient to render that language imperative or to establish a testamentary intent to impose a legal obligation to make a particular disposition of property, that no express trust was intended or created, and that the language constituted an absolute testamentary grant to Miss Wilson.
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