When a beneficiary under a will has died before the testator has passed away, the devise to the beneficiary is known as a lapsed gift. In some cases, this may complicate the probate administration proceedings. In a July 25, 2017 Tennessee estate case, the Court of Appeals reviewed a dispute involving a provision of the decedent’s will bequeathing the residue and remainder of her estate to her former husband, who had predeceased her.
The will at issue was executed in 1991. When her husband died in 1996, the decedent never revoked the 1991 will. The decedent passed away in 2012, and the husband’s children and the former stepchildren of the decedent claimed entitlement to the residuary estate by virtue of Tennessee’s anti-lapse statute. Conversely, the executrix of the estate argued that such a disposition was inconsistent with the decedent’s intent.
In Tennessee, the intent of the person making the will is the most important factor in will interpretation cases, and it is primarily ascertained from the words of the will itself, read in the light of the surrounding and attending circumstances. Evidence outside the will may be admissible to show the circumstances surrounding the testator when she executed her will and to resolve any ambiguity in the will as to the testator’s intentions. However, evidence is inadmissible to add to, vary, or contradict the language used in a will.