Courts Focus on Intent of Testator When Conflict Over Terms of a Will Arise
Description Montana high court held that two letters expressing a desire of testator to give a long-time companion a house they shared in Montana was a valid will that was not contradicted by a formal will made by testator that did not mention the Montana property or the companion.
Topic Wills, Estates and Trusts
Key Words Testamentary Disposition; Codicil; Holographic Will
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Newsman Charles Kuralt and Elizabeth Shannon maintained a 30-year relationship kept secret from Kuralt's wife. Kuralt supported Shannon and her children. Kuralt bought 90 acres in Montana and built a home on it, which he shared with Shannon. Later, in 1989, Kuralt executed a holographic will what stated: "In the event of my death, I bequeath to Patricia Elizabeth Shannon all my interest in land, buildings, furnishings and personal belongings on Burma Road, Twin Bridges, Montana." Kuralt sent this to Shannon. In 1994 he executed a formal will that did not mention the Montana property and did not mention Shannon. Immediately before his death in 1997, he told Shannon in a letter that he wanted to be sure she inherited the Montana property. His estate contended that the Montana property was part of the estate, not gifted to Shannon. The trial court held for Shannon. The estate appealed.
Decision Affirmed. The evidence supported the finding that Kuralt's letter to Shannon expressed his intent to effect a posthumous transfer of property to her. The focus is on the intent of the donor; all evidence points to a long time relationship and intent for Shannon to have the Montana property. The letter to her in 1997 was a holographic will that is a codicil to the formal will executed in 1994 that did not contradict the earlier letter expressing his intent to make a gift of the property.
Citation In re Estate of Kuralt, - P.3d - (2000 WL 1874693, Sup. Ct., Mont., 2000)

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