Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Unambiguous Language Of A Will

In Chin v. Estate of Chin (3D08-1962), the Third District affirmed the trial court's interpretation of the "unambiguous language" of the decedent's will.

On April 12, 1989, Adolph Chin drafted a Will in Jamaica. When he died in 1997, he co-owned property in Miami-Dade County as tenants in common with his sister, Mary Chin. Adolph and Mary both lived on this property. David Chin, Adolph’s son, was named personal representative of Adolph’s estate.
When Adolph Chin died, "the lower court entered an Order of Summary Administration that transferred to David an immediate half interest in the Dade County property. Subsequently, David filed suit against Mary Chin to partition the subject property and force its sale." The trial court determined that David, as the administrator of the estate, erred by not giving Mary Chin the "original Order of Summary Administration or with notice that she was a beneficiary under Adolph’s Will." After the trial court reviewed all of the applicable facts, "Mary Chin was given a life estate in the subject property by her deceased brother, Adolph, and entered an Amended Order of Summary Administration."

The Third District held:

If a court finds the language of a will ambiguous, "[t]he Testator’s intent is the guiding and dominating factor in the construction of a Will." See In re Rodger’s Estate v. First Nat’l Bank, 180 So. 2d 167, 170 (1965). When interpreting ambiguous provisions of a will, courts may look upon the situation of the parties, such as ties and affection between the testator and his or her legatees. Id.

On de novo review, we agree with the trial court’s finding that paragraph seven grants a life estate to Mary Chin. Adolph shared a separate residence with each sibling. The trial court found this to be strong evidence that he did not have the intent to dispossess his siblings of their homes after his death. Additionally, to construe paragraph seven to apply only if there were co-ownership of property by all three individuals asks the Court to adopt the notion that Adolph Chin inserted a restriction into his Will with full knowledge that it had no meaning. This Court simply cannot adopt this explanation.


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