No Beneficiary = No Will
April 16, 2015 § 2 Comments
Ramon Regan was residing in a personal care home operated by Swilley. In 2008, Swilley arranged for a notary public to meet with Regan to help him prepare his will. The notary, Beckham, presented Regan with a pre-printed form, which Regan executed, and had properly witnessed. No attorney was involved.
The will specifically spelled out that it was Regan’s intent to make a testamentary disposition of his estate. It also mentioned that he had no surviving wife, and that he had had no children.
What the will failed to spell out, though, was who were to be the beneficiaries of his bounty. There were no specific or residuary beneficiaries named in the will.
After Regan died in 2011, Swilley filed a petition to probate the will. Elsie LeBlanc, Regan’s aunt, was determined to be his sole surviving heir. After Elsie died in 2013, her son Kenneth filed a caveat against probate of Regan’s will.
Kenneth filed a motion to declare Regan’s will invalid due to absence of any beneficiaries. Swilley responded that the document met the requirements of testamentary intent and attestation, and that parol evidence of Regan’s intent should be considered by the court.
The chancellor ruled that he was to look first to the four corners of the document to determine Regan’s intent. Since the document was not susceptible to multiple interpretations, but merely failed to name any beneficiaries, the court refused to consider parol evidence. The judge pointed out that he could not add language to the will, and that the absence of any named beneficiaries left him with nothing to interpret. He ruled that it was invalid to serve as a testamentary instrument. Swilley appealed, complaining that the chancellor erred in ruling the document invalid, and in refusing to consider parol evidence of Regan’s intent.
The COA, in the case of Estate of Regan: June Swilley v. Estate of LeBlanc, decided April 7, 2015, affirmed. Judge Carlton wrote for the unanimous court:
¶15. In the present case, Regan’s “Last Will and Testament” stated the following regarding the disposition of his property: “Upon my death, I want my property distributed as follows: All my estate, this includes monetary and real property.” As in In re Roland, [920 So.2d 539, 541 (Miss.App. 2006)] our review of Regan’s last will and testament reveals that the document contains no ambiguous language or imprecise description of a beneficiary. Instead, as the record reflects, Regan’s purported last will and testament simply failed to devise or bequeath Regan’s property because Regan failed to name or otherwise identify a beneficiary.
¶16. Because Regan’s last will and testament lacks ambiguity, we find that the chancellor correctly refused to allow parol evidence as to Regan’s testamentary intent. As the record reflects, to give effect to Regan’s will, this Court would have to insert a beneficiary’s name where the will completely failed to provide one. Although our precedent establishes that we construe a will in light of the circumstances surrounding the testator at the time he wrote the will, our caselaw also recognizes that “[c]ourts may not amend or reform a [w]ill, neither may courts add to or take from a [w]ill or make a new [w]ill for the parties.” Hemphill v. Robinson, 355 So. 2d 302, 306-07 (Miss. 1978) (citations omitted).
¶17. As reflected in the record, the invalidity of Regan’s purported last will and testament is rooted in the document’s failure to distribute any of Regan’s assets upon his death. Since Regan’s last will and testament failed to devise or bequeath his property to a named beneficiary, and since the document reflects no attempt within its four corners to identify a beneficiary, we affirm the chancellor’s decision declaring the will invalid and his refusal to admit parol evidence. Accordingly, this assignment of error lacks merit. [Footnote omitted]
Earlier in the opinion, the court noted that MCA 91-1-13 requires that all property, “real and personal, not devised or bequeathed in the last will and testament of any person shall descend and be distributed in the same manner as the estate of an intestate; and the executor or administrator shall administer the same accordingly.”
There is some other authority in the opinion pertaining to parol evidence that you might find useful.
I have had several cases in which someone wanted me to vary the unambiguous terms of the will via parol evidence. The usual situation is that dad had made it abundantly clear to everyone that he was going to change his will, but he died before he got around to it. Their argument is that the will was no longer his testamentary intent. If the document is unambiguous, that parol evidence simply will not vary the written document’s terms.