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Estate of Carroll

Missouri Court of Appeals
746 S.W.2d 736 (1989)


Dortha and Archie Caroll had no children. In separate wills drafted by an attorney, each spouse bequeathed his or her estate to the other. Both wills provided further that in the event one spouse predeceased the other, the estate of the longer-living spouse would go to “my nieces and nephews.” Dortha’s brothers and sisters had eight children; Archie’s brothers and sisters had 12. Dortha died before Archie. After Archie’s death, the children of Dortha’s brothers and sisters (plaintiffs) filed for a declaration that they were entitled to share in Archie’s estate. The plaintiffs sought to introduce extrinsic evidence that: (1) Archie and Dortha did not distinguish between those nieces and nephews by consanguinity and those by affinity, (2) Archie had stated an intention to benefit the children of his wife’s siblings, and (3) both families maintained a close relationship. The trial court refused to consider the extrinsic evidence on the ground that the phrase “my nieces and nephews” lacked ambiguity. The court then declared that “my nieces and nephews” included only the children of Archie’s brothers and sisters. The plaintiffs appealed.

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