Saturday, October 26, 2013
The settlor handwrote a document purporting to alter the distributive provisions of his revocable lifetime trust to include his stepchildren. The writing, addressed to his children (who after his death became co-trustees) and stepchildren was created in a car on the way to the airport and included a sentence telling the readers that if they “are reading this” it means that settlor and his wife had died either on the way to their destination or on their way home. The settlor survived the trip. After settlor’s death, the stepchildren brought a declaratory judgment action seeking confirmation of their status as beneficiaries.
The trial court gave judgment for the co-trustees, holding that the introductory language was ambiguous and admitted extrinsic evidence on settlor’s intent which showed that the language made the amendment conditional. In Rouner v. Wise, No. WD 75305, 2013 WL 3880150 (Mo. Ct. App. July 30, 2013) the appellate court, reversed the trial court holding that the language was not ambiguous when examined as part of the entire writing and thus the amendment was not conditioned on the settlor dying on the trip.
Special thanks to William LaPiana (Professor of Law, New York Law School) for bringing this case to my attention.