Spicer v. Wright Case Brief

Summary of Spicer v. Wright, 215 Va. 520, 2111 S.E.2d 79 (1975)

Facts: Mr. and Ms. Spicer married during their 50’s. Ms. had resided with her sister Ms. Wilson before hand caring for a terminally ill aunt. After her death, Ms. Wilson joined the Spicers in their apartment. Mr. Spicer suffered a heart attack and Ms. Wilson helped with his care. He executed a power of attorney to his wife. A doctor at the hospital where Ms. Wilson worked remembered granting her time to accompany her sister to make a will, but no record of a formal will for Ms. Spicer was shown, only a holographic. Their maid could not remember any discussion concerning an agreement mentioned in the will.

Issue: Whether the language of Ms. Spicer’s will, read with the extrinsic evidence, is sufficient to establish an intent to create an express trust, and if that trust failed for indefiniteness and a resulting trust arose in favor of Mr. Spicer?

Holding: The language employed is precatory, the extrinsic evidence is insufficient to render that language imperative or to establish a testamentary intent to impose a legal obligation regarding disposition of the property. No express trust was intended or created, the language constitutes an absolute testamentary grant to Ms. Wilson.


Rule: Precatory words are prima facie construed to create a trust when they are directed to an executor, but no trust is created by precatory language directed at the legatee, UNLESS there is testamentary intent to impose a legal obligation on him to make a particular disposition of property.

Rationale: The extrinsic evidence supports the finding that the sisters had previously agreed how the property would be disposed of, but the evidence fails to establish a testamentary intent to impose a legal obligation to make a particular disposition, or to show the agreement was designed to impose enforceable duties. If the extrinsic evidence had sufficiently identified the beneficiary, and the terms of the benefits, then that evidence and the precatory language would be considered together sufficient to establish testamentary intent. Nothing in the record assist in determining which one of several interpretations regarding any obligation should be chosen. There is no obligation and no trust.

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