Williams v. Estate of Williams

865 S.W.2d 3 (Tenn. 1993)



The function of a suit to construe a will is to ascertain and effect the intention of the testator. When a controlling or predominant purpose of the testator is expressed, it is the duty of the court to effectuate that purpose and to construe all subsidiary clauses so as to bring them into subordination to such purpose. This intention must of necessity control, unless it contravenes some rule of law or public policy. 


The decedent's will bequeathed his farm to three of his daughters, including the plaintiff, surviving daughter. The surviving daughter and the other daughters, defendants, maintained possession of the farm during their lives, and the other daughters had predeceased her. Plaintiff brought the action to construe the will, and the chancery court and the court of appeals ruled that the three daughter's had each received a one-third undivided interest in fee simple in the farm, instead of only receiving a life estate. The court reversed. 


Does the appellate court's decision defeat the clear intention of the testator?




The predominant intention of the decedent was clear that the three daughters were to share the farm equally so long as they were living and unmarried. The court stated that the testator's statement that he was favoring the daughters above the other children because they had stayed at home and taken care of their mother implicitly recognized that each had foregone the opportunity to become self-supporting or be supported by a husband, and by the decedent's limiting the duration of the devise to such time as a daughter should marry, indicated that the devise was intended to be a substitute for support that might otherwise have been available.

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