Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Mahoney v. Grainger case brief

Mahoney v. Grainger case brief summary
186 N.E. 86 (1933)

Appellant first cousins, who alleged that they were the heirs at law of the testatrix, appealed from a decree of the Probate Court for the County of Suffolk (Massachusetts), which denied a petition for distribution of certain property under the residuary clause of the will. The petition was heard by a stenographer appointed under statutory provisions. After finding material facts and making rulings, the trial judge dismissed the petition.


When the testatrix died her sole heir at law was her maternal aunt. The testatrix was a single woman of about 64. She lived alone but maintained cordial relationships with her aunt and several first cousins. The will's residuary clause provided for the residue to be distributed equally to the testatrix's heirs at law living at the time of her death; however, the real property was not to be sold for five years unless the personal property was insufficient to pay her specific legatees. The will gave sizeable general legacies to two first cousins.


  • The probate court ruled that the testatrix's statements to the attorney were admissible only to show the material circumstances at the time of executing the will. 
  • Regardless of language that the heirs were to divide the residue among them equally, it was clear that the testatrix had but one heir. 
  • There was no latent ambiguity in the will permitting the testatrix's statements to be introduced to prove her testamentary intent. 
  • The court affirmed on appeal, finding no ambiguity in the will; the words referred alone to the aunt, not the cousins. 
  • The use of the plural word "heirs" did not prevent the aunt from taking the entire gift.

The court affirmed the decree of the probate court dismissing the petition for distribution of the estate of the testatrix to the first cousins.

Suggested Study Aids For Wills, Trusts & Estate Law

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