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By: Scott Grossman on September 17th, 2016

Church Battles Over Testamentary Intent of Deceased Parishioner’s Will

Difficulties of Testamentary Intent

This case is between a Houston church and a parishioner’s intentions when he left the church money under his will. Here the parishioner left his money to his church, but the church building needs repairing. The local archdiocese wants to demolish the church structure, while receiving the money from the will. This issue illustrates the difficulty of determining testamentary intent.

It is unclear in the will if the money was left to the “mother church” or the local church. This intention, if the case was in California, would determine who will actually inherit under the will. If the decedent meant to benefit his local church, then the money would pass to an alternate beneficiary. If the decedent meant to leave money to the “mother church,” then the church gets the money regardless.

In a California probate litigation the testator’s intent is at issue whenever the language of the will is ambiguous. It is also an issue if the situation contemplated by the testator has changed in a way that frustrates the terms of the will. In order to show what the settler intended in such cases, extrinsic evidence can used. Finally, the probate court judge will decide the intentions and who inherits under the will.