Monday, November 11, 2013

Estate of Gibbs case brief

Estate of Gibbs case brief summary
111 N.W.2d 413 (1961)

Appellant stranger challenged the finding of the Circuit Court of Milwaukee County (Wisconsin), which found that a bequest was to appellee friend, despite a wrong middle initial.


A decedent left a will that purportedly left a devise to the stranger, who could not properly account for the reason for the bequest. However, but for a mistaken middle initial, the bequest would have gone to the friend, who had been left bequests in prior wills of the decedent. The trial court found that the decedent intended to leave the bequest to the friend, not the stranger, and so ordered. The stranger appealed. 

  • The court first found that the stranger could not offer any logical reason why the decedent would have left anything to him in the will. 
  • However, the court observed that there was no ambiguity -- the stranger was the only person bearing the name of the legatee in the will. 
  • Ordinarily, where there is no ambiguity, courts would not reform wills. 
  • However, the court found where there were details subject to mistake, such as middle initials and addresses, courts overlooked such details in preference to the intent of the decedent. 
  • Here, the clear intent of the decedent was to leave property to the friend, not the stranger, despite the erroneous middle initial.

The court affirmed the order of the trial court granting the bequest to the friend, not the stranger.

Suggested Study Aids For Wills, Trusts & Estate Law

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