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MAYHEW v. ATKINSON

November 9, 1950

MAYHEW
v.
ATKINSON et al.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: HOLTZOFF

The question involved in this case is whether the interests of the remaindermen become accelerated and payable immediately, if the widow of the deceased renounces a life estate created for here benefit under the will, and elects to take the share to which she would have been entitled in case of intestacy.

This is an action for the construction of a will. The matter is brought before the Court on motions for summary judgment made by the respective parties.

 George B. Stevens, who dies on March 13, 1949, left a will which, after providing for several small cash legacies, left the residue of the estate in trust to pay the decedent's wife, Nellie G. Stevens, for life or until she remarried, the sum of $ 200 a month, which might be increased in the discretion of the executors by an amount not to exceed $ 250. The will then continued:

 'Upon the happening of either event then said trust shall be distributed absolutely and in fee simple as follows:

 'First: Lot 802 in Square 5982, known as premises 2759 Nichols Avenue, Southeast, Washington, D.C., together with the stock, equipment and good will known as George B. Stevens, Stevens' Service Store, to William V. Mayhew and Frank Mayhew as joint tenants in fee simple and absolutely.

 'Second: One-third of the residue to my son Ernest W. Stevens in fee simple and absolutely.

 'Third: One-third of the residue to the Second Church of Christ Scientist, Washington, D.C., in fee simple and absolutely.

 'Fourth: One-third of the residue to those of my step-children enumerated in Item Second of this my last will, as may be living at the time their interests shall vest, in fee simple and absolutely.'

 The widow renounced her interest under the will and elected to take the share to which she would have been entitled in the event that her husband had died intestate. One of the executors has brought this suit for the construction of the will and for instructions as to the disposition of the corpus of the estate. It will be observed that one part of the corpus, consisting of the business constituting Stevens' Service Store, together with the real property on which it is conducted, is devised and bequeathed to William V. Mayhew and Frank Mayhew as joint tenants. The balance of the corpus is to be divided into three parts to be disposed of as follows: one-third to the decedent's son, Ernest W. Stevens; one-third to the Second Church of Christ Scientist; and the balance to certain of the decedent's step-children.

 William V. Mayhew claims that the remainders should be accelerated as a result of the widow's renunciation, and that the devise of the real property and bequest of the business made to him and to Frank Mayhew, should become effective immediately. On the other hand, Ernest W. Stevens contends that the remainders should not be accelerated and the corpus should not be distributed until the death or remarriage of the widow. He further urges that in the meantime the income of the estate should be accumulated and added to the corpus. These conflicting contentions present the question to be determined by the Court.

 It is a general rule that if an estate which was intended to last for a restricted time, fails for any reason, the interests that are to follow become accelerated and take effect immediately as if no such prior interest had existed. Thus in Fuller v. Fuller, Cro. Eliz. 423, the Court held that if a devise for life is void, 'it is as if it never had been made' and 'he in remainder shall have it presently'. Ordinarily, the will is then treated as though the devise for life had never been made, and the succeeding interests become payable immediately.

 This general principle applies if a widow, to whom a life estate has been devised, renounces the provision made for her and elects to take the share to which she would have been entitled in case of intestacy. In that event the life estate fails, and ordinarily the remainders become accelerated and the remaindermen may enter into possession immediately.

 Thus, in an early case in this jurisdiction, Ladd v. Ladd, Fed. Cas. No. 7,972, 2 Cranch C.C. 505, 506, it was held 'that, upon the widow's renouncing the provision made for her by the will, the estate, devised to her for life, with remainder to the complainant, in fee, vested immediately in him.'

 Similarly, in Capron v. Capron, 6 Mackey 340, 347, it was held that by the widow's renunciation of her life estate and election to take as by intestacy, the remainder devised ...


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