Summary of Swanson v. Swanson, Supreme Court of GA (1999)
Parties: PL is Peggy Swanson, the wife of Bennie Swanson, one of nine children of George and Gertrude Swanson. The DF’s are six of the other eight children, who are debating the vesting of Peggy as the result of Bennie’s death.
Cause of action/remedy sought: Cause of action is a court order to determine if Peggy vested in remainder of George’s estate.
Procedural History: Appealed from lower court, which granted summary judgment in favor of the siblings.
Facts: George died in 1970. In his wills (IV and V), George left to Gertrude his wife the remainder of the life estate which was to pass to their children. Gertrude did have an option if it came up, that being to exercise her power of appointment, and that any if any of the nine children’s passing predated Gertrude’s death, that child’s child would represent that interest in the estates. Neither option came to pass in the course of events.
One child, Bennie, married Peggy. Bennie passed on after George but prior to Gertrude. Peggy was Bennie’s sole beneficiary in his will. After Gertrude died, Peggy wanted what she thought was her share of the nine siblings’ remainder on George’s original will.
Issue(s): Under Georgia property law, does the wife of a sibling have rights which vest in a remainder of her father-in-law’s estate when her husband dies testate prior to his mother, who was the original beneficiary of the will in question?
Holding: Yes. George’s remainder was vested on his passing; no condition subsequent occurred prior to the termination of the life estate; there is no language in the will that plainly manifests a contrary intent; and case law and statutory law are applicable to the same finding. Judgment reversed.
Court’s Rationale/Reasoning: TO distinguish between vested remainders and contingent remainders, a court must determine whether at the time the instrument takes effect there is “a person who in his own right, or as part of his estate, would take all of his property if the estate ended now.” If there is such a person, then the remainder is vested subject to a condition precedent and is a contingent remainder.
The will unquestionably names the nine children as beneficiaries to the life estate inherited by Gertrude, so each child had a vested remainder interest. Since the above conditions which could create a different scenario, there are according to the court very clear rules regarding survivorship in the will. Case law holds that these remainders are vested and not defeased by occurrence of a condition subsequent.
The language in the will indicates the intent to leave his estate to nine separate families (Swanson siblings). Since GA prefers construing conditions as subsequent, the word “surviving” will not be construed as precedent. So, as soon as George died, all siblings and their kids were vested.
Rule: GA law favors construing “conditions to be subsequent” and GA law favors the “vesting of remainders in all cases of doubt, which is also called the early vesting of remainders.”
Did court avoid issues?: did it sidestep any questions that it initially appeared that it would have to answer?