Tuesday, December 31, 2013

White v. Brown case brief

White v. Brown case brief summary
559 S.W.2d 938 (1977)

CASE SYNOPSIS
Petitioners, devisee and executrix, sought review of an order by the lower appellate court (Tennessee), which affirmed a judgment of the trial court in favor of respondent heirs that the testator devised a life estate in her house to petitioner devisee, with a remainder to respondents. Petitioners argued that testator's will devised a fee simple and that a restraint on the sale of the house was void as against public policy.

CASE FACTS
Testator left a holographic will in which she devised her house to petitioner devisee. However, the will contained language forbidding the sale of the home. Petitioners, devisee and executrix, filed suit against respondent heirs, alleging that the will devised the house to petitioner devisee in fee simple absolute, and that any restraint on alienation was void as against public policy. Respondent argued that the restraint on alienation evinced an intent by the testator to devise a life estate with a remainder in fee simple absolute in respondents.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY
The trial court held that the will devised a life estate with a remainder in respondents, and the lower appellate court affirmed.

DISCUSSION

  • The court reversed, stating that Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 32-301, 64-501 provided that a fee simple absolute was passed unless the testator clearly intended to devise a life estate. 
  • A fee simple absolute was presumed even in the absence of words of inheritance, if there was no language that could be construed to create a remainder. 
  • Thus, the restraint on the sale of the house was insufficient to overcome the presumption that a fee simple had been devised, and testamentary restraint on alienation was void.
CONCLUSION
The court reversed the order of the lower appellate court affirming a judgment in favor of respondent heirs that the testator devised a life estate in her house to petitioner devisee with a remainder in fee simple to respondents. The restraint on alienation of the home devised to petitioner devisee did not evidence a clear intent to pass a life estate and was insufficient to overcome the presumption that a fee simple interest was conveyed.

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