Black v. Black

Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, 1982.

171 W.Va. 307, 298 S.E.2d 843.

Johnson, pp. 111-114


Facts: The Black siblings owned a farm.  They signed a joint will saying that if any of them should die, the dead person’s property would be split among the surviving siblings.  They also agreed that after all three of them died, their nieces and nephews would get everything “in fee”.  After two of the siblings died, the third one, Jessie, wrote up new deeds conveying the farm to different people while reserving herself a life estate.  Jessie filed a complaint asserting that she should now own everything in fee simple and that none of the nieces and nephews owned any interest in any of the property.  The nieces and nephews counterclaimed to try to have the deeds declared null and void.  The circuit court found that Jessie only had a life estate in the property and thus the deeds were no good.  Jessie appealed.


Issue: Has Jessie acquired fee simple title to the property in question?


Rule: West Virginia statutory and common law state that when an absolute “power of disposal” conflicts with some other limitation, the absolute power wins out.  [Ed. This is wrong!  I’ll fix it later!]


Analysis: The court finds that the joint will implicitly gives Jessie a life estate and gives the nieces and nephews a remainder in fee simple.


This will seems pretty clear on its face to me.  Under any reasonable principles of interpretation, you would figure that there would be no reason to have “FIRST” and “SECOND” or two have two parts or the “however” if you really just wanted to leave all the property in fee to the last surviving person.  It makes me wonder just what was going down in this case.


Conclusion: The circuit court’s decision is upheld.


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