The principles of law regarding the contractual nature of a joint will, are that a joint will may be revoked in the manner provided by statute; that a subsequent validly executed will shall be admitted to probate; but that the contract upon which the prior will was executed, upon proof of its validity, may be specifically enforced in equity, or damages recovered upon it at law.
The decedent and his first wife executed a joint will. When the first wife died, she did not own property solely in her name and possessed no probate estate. The decedent then filed a petition seeking declaratory relief and requesting the right to execute a new last will and testament. While the court found that the will was revocable, the estate could be liable for breach of the contract to make a will. There was no second will. The decedent subsequently remarried, and upon the decedent's death, the second wife sought payment of a family allowance and filed an election for her statutory share of the decedent's estate. The trial court found that the second wife was not entitled to receive an elective share and a family allowance under Md. Code Ann., Est. & Trusts § 3-203 and § 3-201 (1974, 1988), because the deceased had previously contracted, by virtue of a joint will with his first wife, to will his entire estate to respondent claimants. The second wife appealed.
Was a family allowance to be accorded priority over the claims of both ordinary contract creditors and legatees under a will?
The court reversed and held that while the respondents' claim was more properly characterized as being that of a legatee, rather than that of a creditor, regardless of which characterization is used, the second wife's claim for a family allowance took precedence over the respondents' claim. Therefore, the second wife was entitled to receive the family allowance provided for in § 3-201.