Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Thursday, March 14, 2019

A Dying Man, a Typo and the Bitter Dispute Pitting 2 Nashville Religious Institutions Against 3 Children

Error4 non-profits, two of which are Nashville institutions, are fighting against three young children, claiming that they are the righting beneficiaries to land that has belonged in the family for more than 200 years. The acres were deeded to a Blackburn ancestor by President Andrew Jackson, prior to the War of 1812. But the lack of two words in a will of a Blackburn that passed away in 2014 has caused the organizations to believe that they deserve hundreds of acres now worth millions of dollars.

When Barry Blackburn, Sr., died at the age of 48 in 2014, his will left all of the land to his son Christopher in a lifetime trust, and then would pass to Christopher's children. If his son predeceased him, the land would go to his sister's three young children, aged 3, 8, and 13. If there were no surviving beneficiaries, the land would be divided equally among the Nashville Christian School, Harpeth Presbyterian Church (which was founded by Gideon Blackburn in 1811), the University of Mississippi law school and Boykin Spaniel Rescue. Christopher died a year after his father without begetting any children.

A Mississippi judged determined that the missing words, "or dies," amounted to a scrivener's error, and that the testator's intent had been to leave the land in the family. Evidence from Blackburn's assistants were introduced, including notes of conversations among them that showed his intent was for the charities to receive the land as a "last resort." The assistants claimed responsibility for the clerical error.

See Anita Wadhwani, A Dying Man, a Typo and the Bitter Dispute Pitting 2 Nashville Religious Institutions Against 3 Children, Tennessean, March 14, 2019.

Special thanks to Turney Berry (Wyatt, Tarrant, & Combs, LLP, Louisville, Kentucky) for bringing this article to my attention.


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The trial court decision is obviously correct, even without resort to extrinsic evidence. The phrases "predecease the settlor" and "prior to complete distribution" are incompatible, and if the latter is to have any meaning at all, you have to delete the condition of predeceasing the settlor. The scrivener was a lawyer in the settlor's own office. Not a good look for the four charities. If one of these kids predeceases age 45, they will still get a piece.

Posted by: Russ Willis | Mar 15, 2019 3:44:12 PM

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