Lawyers and probate courts are frequently asked by relatives of a deceased to consider evidence well beyond the four corners of a last will in determining the “true” donative intent of the testator. However, courts, at least in Florida, are generally bound by the language of a person’s last will and testament unless there is some ambiguity warranting the court’s examination of extrinsic evidence.
There are two types of ambiguities in the typical last will and testament construction cases:
A last will is “patently ambiguous” if it is ambiguous on its face. Patent ambiguities usually result in the probate courts finding that there is no valid will in effect and no extrinsic evidence is permitted. Some courts have held that where there is a patent ambiguity as to the testator’s intent, the probate court may consider extrinsic evidence. Remember extrinsic is evidence that is not within the document (in this case the Last Will) but instead comes from outside or external sources.
A “latent ambiguity” arises when it is not clear how to apply certain words of a last will to a specific gift. One court has described a latent ambiguity as arising when the words of the will are applied to the subject of devise or bequest, and those words apply to and fit without ambiguity indifferently to each of several things or persons. Kernkamp v. Bolthouse, 714 So.2d 655 (Fla. 5th DCA 1998). Read the rest of this entry