Omissions Do Not Make a Will Ambiguous

What happens when a condition stated in a will for distribution of assets does not occur? Do the assets pass on to the beneficiaries stated in the will or will the entire estate pass by intestacy? According to the Court of Appeal, the answer is the latter as demonstrated in the final ruling in Radin v. Jewish National Fund.

In Radin v. Jewish National Fund, Irving Duke prepared a holographic will in October 1984 bequeathing his estate to his beloved wife, Beatrice Schecter Duke. The will also states that if the testator and Beatrice die at the same time, his estate is to be divided equally between the City of Hope (COH) and the Jewish National Fund (JNF). Irving further indicated that he had intentionally disinherited certain family members from his will. A no contest clause was included in the will that purports to disinherit anyone who challenges the will. Beatrice died in 2002. Irving later died in 2007, without children or issue, leaving an estate valued at more than $5 million.

In March 2008, COH and JNF filed a petition for probate and the appointment of an administrator. In the same year, Irving's nephews, Seymour and Robert Radin (sole surviving relatives), filed a petition for determination of entitlement to estate distribution and for removal of the administrator. The nephews acknowledged that although the will was valid, the condition under which the two charities were to take under the will – that Irving and Beatrice died at the same time – had not transpired. The will failed to address what was to happen if Beatrice predeceased her husband by several years. Accordingly, Seymour and Robert argued, the result was a complete intestacy, and the estate should therefore pass to Irving's closest living relatives. However, COH and JNF contended that the court should consider extrinsic evidence of Irving's testamentary intent, noting that after his wife's death, he has executed several annuity agreements with COH and has made representations that he was leaving his estate to COH and JNF.

The Radins filed a reply stating that the will was not ambiguous; therefore, it was not necessary to consider extrinsic evidence. The trial court ruled in favor of the Radins. COH and JNF appealed.

Stay tuned for more on this topic on subsequent blog.

*This blog entry was not written by an Attorney and should not be construed as professional legal advice.

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