The interpretation of a written instrument, including a will, is a judicial function. A reviewing court may exercise its independent judgment in interpreting an instrument provided that extrinsic evidence regarding interpretation is not conflicting. The reviewing court has the duty to independently interpret the will when the credibility of extrinsic evidence or the resolution of a conflict in the evidence is not in issue. Thus, the reviewing court must exercise independent judgment to interpret a will where conflicting inferences may be drawn from uncontroverted evidence.
A clause in a husband's testamentary trust gave petitioner wife the net income for life, but only if she did not remarry or live with a man as though married. The widow sought a petition to reform the will of her deceased husband and this was denied by the court. Thus, the case was appealed to the Court of Appeal of California.
Is the clause valid?
The court concluded that the clause was void as a restraint on marriage. Cal. Civ. Code § 710 provided that conditions imposing restraints upon marriage were void. Here, the evidence surrounding the execution of the trust showed that the husband intended to restrain petitioner's relationships or remarriage in violation of the law.