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IN RE ESTATE OF MILLER

January 7, 1955

In re ESTATE of Robin MILLER, Deceased


The opinion of the court was delivered by: HOLTZOFF

This proceeding involves the construction of the will of Robin Miller, deceased, and is before the court on objections to the final account of the executor.

The will of the testatrix consists of five paragraphs, in addition to the usual introductory and concluding clauses. The pertinent provisions of each of the five paragraphs are as follows:

 '1. I direct the payment of all my just debts and funeral expenses. * * *'

 '2. I give, devise and bequeath all real estate and stocks of which I may die seized or possessed, to the George Washington University School of Medicine for the purpose of establishing a fellowship in medicine for the study of Cardio-Vascular Disease. This fellowship is to be known as the Robin Miller Fellowship. * * *'

 '3. I give, devise and bequeath to my friend, Mrs. Emily Cummingham Tribble, 3115 Foxhall Road, Northwest, Washington, D.C., all my household furnishings, rugs, clothing and personal effects.'

 '4. I give, devise and bequeath to my cousin, Sue McCook, 2400 Pinecroft Road, Greensboro, North Carolina, any bonds and any monies that are left after my just debts are paid.'

 '5. I nominate William W. Pavis, Esquire, Executor of my estate and direct that he serve without bond.'

 There are two principal questions of construction to be determined by the court. The first and basic problem is whether paragraph 4 constitutes a residuary clause, or a general or specific legacy. If it is the former, the debts of the testatrix, her funeral expenses, and the expenses of administration must be met out of the fund covered by paragraph 4. Otherwise, the question would arise whether some of the other legacies should be prorated and contribute to the payment of these liabilities.

 Manifestly, a gift of 'any monies that are left after my just debts are paid' involves an ambiguity. If the word 'monies' is to be restricted to cash and money on deposit in bank accounts, it would follow that paragraph 4 is not a residuary clause, but creates a general or specific legacy, probably the former. On the other hand, if the words 'any monies' are to be understood in the colloquial sense as meaning all personal property, paragraph 4 becomes a residuary clause. It is not uncommon for people to speak of their money when referring to their property, rather than limiting that term to currency and funds on deposit in a bank.

 It is elementary that a residuary clause need not be formulated in any particular manner, and need not employ any specific phraseology or words of art. The matter to be determined is the intention of the testatrix, Reeves v. American Security & Trust Co., 72 App.D.C., 403, 115 F.2d 145.

 Decisions can be cited in support of either of the two possible constructions of paragraph 4. A few illustrations will suffice. For example, in the case of In re Ingham's Estate, 315 Pa. 293, 172 A. 662, 93 A.L.R. 510, the final clause of the will drawn by the testatrix herself provided that, "What is left of my money after my debts are paid, I wish given to The Baptist Home * * *." As against the contention that the words 'my money' should be construed in the strict sense of cash and bank deposits, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania held that this term, under the circumstances of the case, should be interpreted as referring to all of the property of the testatrix, as there could be no doubt that she meant thereby to dispose of the entire residue of her estate after the payment of her debts and the satisfaction of the legacies enumerated in the preceding clauses.

 So, too, in the case of In re Thayer's Will, 86 Misc. 191, 149 N.Y.S. 141, a bequest of "all the money that I may have" was construed as comprising all of the personal property of the testatrix.

 On the other hand, counsel for Sue McCook points to Stannard v. Barnum, 51 Md. 440, in support of his contention that paragraph 4 of the will should not be deemed a residuary clause. In that case, however, the bequest was simply of 'a balance of money'. The court held that this legacy did not comprise a disposition of an interest and estate in a hotel property. Moreover, the court predicated its disposition in large part on the peculiar circumstances of the case, which it is unnecessary to review here. In re Miller's Estate, 48 Cal. 165, the Supreme Court of California construed the word 'money' in a devise as including both personal and real property, deeming that, under the facts of that case, this was the intention of the testatrix.

 There is a well known old saying that no will has a twin brother. Its terms must be interpreted by the court as best it can in accordance with what it finds to be the intent of the testator or testatrix. The fact that the term 'money' is used in the final clause of the will, coupled with the principle that an intestacy is not to be favored, would tend toward the construction that the word 'money' was intended to embrace all of the remaining property that had not been disposed of in the preceding clauses of the will. Moreover, in the instant case, the testatrix manifestly emphasized and concentrated her ideas on establishing a fellowship in The George Washington ...


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