Appeal of Byran et. al. Case Brief

Summary of Appeal of Byran et. al, 77 Conn. 240 (1904)

Facts: A will of the deceased, Philo Bennett, was offered into probate. It contained a clause leaving $50 K to his wife in trust for the purposes set forth in a sealed letter found with the will. Two letters were found. The will was executed 5/22/1900 and the first letter was dated 5/22/1900. Within the first letter, he left her $75K, a house, and residue of $25K more. The $50K trust was to be given to a politician or his heirs, or to whichever charitable/educational organizations the politician chose. The second letter was a typewritten duplicate of the first except the closing and it was not signed.

Issue: Whether extrinsic letters may be incorporated into a will by reference so as to be rendered a part of the will itself?

Holding: The letters in this case may not be incorporated into the will.

Procedure: The Probate Ct excluded extrinsic evidence, two letters, offered as part of the will. Jury verdict, under direction, that both letters are not, either separately or together, a part of the will. Superior Ct judgment affirming decree of Probate Ct refusing to approve a certain writing as a part of the will.

Rule: Doctrine of Incorporation–An unattested document may, by reference in a will, under certain conditions and limitations, become by reference incorporated in the will as a part of it.

Rationale: Two conditions are necessary before the doctrine is held applicable. First, the paper must be in existence at the time of the execution of the will; and second, the description must not be so vague as to be incapable of being applied to any instrument in particular, but must describe the instrument intended in clear and definite terms.

The will in the present case fails to comply with the required conditions under which the doctrine of incorporation by reference can apply. There is not in the language of the will any clear, explicit, unambiguous reference to any specific document existing and known to the testator at the time his will was executed. The will makes only a vague reference to a ‘sealed letter’ which may refer to any sealed letter, made by anybody, at any time after the will was executed. The reference is so vague as to be incapable of being applied to any instrument in particular.

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