Pigg v. Haley

Supreme Court of Virginia, 1982.

224 Va. 113, 294 S.E.2d 851.

Johnson, pp. 115-121


Facts: Mr. Haley died, leaving some uncertainty in his will.  It was not clear what interest he left to his wife and what he left to his distant cousin, Mr. Pigg.  Mrs. Haley and Mr. Pigg tried to cooperatively resolve the uncertainty by signing a written agreement that Mrs. Haley would get all of Mr. Haley’s personal property, while she would only get a life estate in his real property followed by a remainder for Mr. Pigg in fee simple absolute.  Later, Mrs. Haley tried to sell some of the land to some of the other Haleys.  All the Haleys sued Pigg, claiming “an equitable fee interest” in the land to be purchased and sold.  The trial court found for the plaintiffs on the ground that the written agreement was void for lack of consideration.


Issue: Was the agreement between Mrs. Haley and Mr. Pigg supported by adequate consideration?


Rule: By statute, a conveyance is in fee simple absolute unless there is a contrary intention.  By precedent, life estate plus absolute power of disposition equals fee simple absolute and any remainder is automatically void.  But then, by statute again, life estate plus absolute power of disposition leaves a remainder in whatever the life tenant doesn’t sell or consume in his or her lifetime.


Analysis: Mrs. Haley argues that Pigg got nothing, while Pigg argues that the will left at least some remainder to him that could constitute valid consideration for the subsequent written agreement.  The court agrees with Pigg and finds that he traded his remainder in for a remainder in the real property.  The court also won’t declare the agreement void for mistake of law because the court says that the whole point of the agreement was to eliminate uncertainty about the effect of the law on the parties.  Thus, the court holds that the agreement is valid and enforceable.


Conclusion: The trial court is reversed and the agreement is declared valid.


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